Millions of people in Europe, North America and Australia will die because of giant infections, unless countries have priority in the fight against the increased threat of immune bacteria to the best-known drugs, experts foretold on Wednesday.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned of "disastrous consequences" for health care and public spending unless basic hygiene for hospitals is amplified and unnecessary use of antibiotics is reduced.
Drug-resistant bacteria killed more than 33,000 people in Europe in 2015, according to new research published separately this week.
In a baseline report, the OECD said 2.4 million people could die from the superbug by 2050 and said the cost of treating such infections would be a bubble at an average of $ 3.5 billion year in each country included in its analysis.
Michele Cecchini, a leader in public health at the OECD, told AFP that countries have already spent an average of 10% of their health care budgets to treat antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
"AMR costs more than just the flu, more than HIV, more than tuberculosis, and it will cost even more if countries do not take action to solve this problem," he said.
The enormous death
As people consume more and more antibiotics – either through prescriptions or through agriculture and animal products, medicines to prevent infection – strains of bacteria that resist the effects of drugs intended to kill them are developed.
In low and middle income countries, resistance is already high: in Indonesia, Brazil and Russia, up to 60% of bacterial infections are already resistant to at least one antibiotic.
And the increase in AMR is expected to be four to seven times faster until 2030 than at present.
"Such high levels of resistance in health care systems, which are already weakened by constrained budgets, will create the conditions for an enormous number of deaths that will be borne primarily by newborns, very young and elderly children, the report said.
Even small pieces in the kitchen, minor surgery or diseases such as pneumonia could become life-threatening.
Perhaps more worrying is the prediction by the OECD that the resistance to so-called second-line and third-line antibiotics – treatments for emergency infections – will bubble 70% by 2030.
"These are the antibiotics that, as far as possible, we do not want to use them because we want them to be back," Cecchini said.
"Essentially, we will use more when we should use less and overcome the best options in an emergency".
How to avoid disaster
The group, which advises the World Health Organization on public health initiatives, said the only way to prevent the disaster was to implement immediate sectoral changes.
The report called on health professionals to ensure better universal hygiene standards in hospitals and clinics, urging all staff to wash their hands and comply with stricter safety regimes.
It has also been suggested that resistance can be counteracted by better and faster tests to determine if an infection is viral – which means that antibiotics are useless – or bacterial.
New buffer tests can result in a few minutes, and Cecchini introduced the idea of "delayed prescriptions" to dent excessive antibiotics by making patients wait three days before picking up their antibiotics – about the time required for a viral infection to continue their course.
In the art, two-thirds of patients who have been given delayed antibiotic prescriptions have never collected their medicine.
The OECD said that such changes would only cost $ 2 (€ 1.7) per person per year and would save millions of lives and billions of dollars by the middle of the century.
"They would reduce AMR burden in these countries by 75%," Cecchini said. "It will pay for itself in a few months and it will bring substantial savings."