What Steps Should Be Taken to Combat Superbugs in the Developing World?

By Christopher Metzger

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Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), photo courtesy of Flickr user NIAID under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) refers to the ability of microbes to grow in the presence of substances specifically designed to kill them, specifically antibiotics. Superbug is a non-scientific term used by the media to refer to a pathogenic bacterium that has developed an immunity to antibiotics. The annual economic costs of AMR and superbugs—measured in lost productivity—could be as large as that of the 2008 global financial crisis. Without a global containment effort, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be out of reach. In particular, goals 1 and 3—ending poverty, and achieving good health and well-being—will be unreachable by 2030. If containment efforts fail by 2050, more people will be dying from resistant bacteria than from cancer, as shown in Figure 1. The deaths and medical costs that would result from widespread drug-resistant bacteria could cost developing countries five percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, yet the threat of superbugs is only just beginning to receive the international media attention that it deserves.

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