(18 to 24 November, every year, is observed as World Antimicrobial Awareness Week by the World Health Organisation. In light of it, and the pressing need to spread awareness about the 'hidden pandemic' of superbugs and antibiotic resistance, FIT is republishing this story.)
The post antibiotic world is practically upon us, and the rampant misuse of antibiotics has still not stopped. This is not a reality we want to confront. But what has antibiotic resistance got to do with climate change?
My name is Dr Marcus Ranney, your champion of wellbeing, and I’ve been bringing you the big picture on the climate crisis and its impact on our health in our new series on Climate Health.
Antibiotic Resistance & Climate Change
Over the last few centuries we have made tremendous progress against infectious diseases, largely aided by the discovery of antibiotics in the first half of the 20th century.
But their overuse, as prescription medicines, their usage in animal farming and the food industry coupled with the fact that we just haven’t discovered any new antibiotics in decades, means we are fast approaching a post-antibiotic era. An era in which common infectious will once again kill easily.
Every time you pop an antibiotic for a viral infection, remember this:
With rampant overuse, sophisticated interventions, like organ transplantation, joint replacements, cancer chemotherapy, and care of preterm infants will all become more difficult with worsening outcomes.
Treatment for common infectious diseases will become redundant. Superbugs, resistant to the most powerful antibiotics known today, will spread through hospital wards and intensive care units. Added to this mix, the rising temperatures, that are at cellular level, altering the physiological and genetic responses to thermal shocks within these organisms, could potentially lead to a further increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Why Should I Care?
Well in India alone, over 56,000 newborns die each year due to sepsis, babies that could have been easily treated once using first line antibiotics.
While the death toll of COVID-19 is devastating, deaths caused by Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) can become potentially higher each passing year.
Already 700,000 lives are lost due to AMR each year and without targeted interventions, this number is set to reach 10 million people per year by 2050, with almost a fifth of fatalities occurring right here in India.
Then COVID-19 occurred. With the overuse of hand sanitizers and pre-emptive administration of antibiotics to about 92% of the suspected patients, the earlier quoted numbers are likely to just shoot up even higher.
What's Causing this Resistance?
Yes, human overuse and the abuse by the livestock industry are big factors.
But doctors are also to blame - indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics is a major factor.
Then, due to the lack of adequate health care access, almost 50% of patients procure antibiotics directly from pharmacies, in most cases not needed, in some cases completely incorrect for the bug in question and in almost all cases not completing the full course.
In India, with its booming pharmaceutical industry, which jointly with China, produces as much as 80% of the global stock of antibiotics, the larger concern is also the release of vast amounts of untreated effluents from pharmaceutical factories. Chemicals which enter our water supplies and cause downstream effects on all of us.
The global response to COVID-19 has shown us that the international community can come together and create a synchronized, unprecedented mitigation response when faced with a systemic threat.
Antibiotic resistance is a systemic threat. Perhaps a bigger threat than the current pandemic. It needs a similar response from the global scientific community and from You and I.
(Dr Marcus Ranney is a medical doctor and Champion of Wellbeing. A global thought leader, he is currently engaged in efforts to advocate towards a better understanding of the relationship with the climate crisis and our health. He is also the author of the book At the Human Edge.)