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Antimicrobial resistance is responsible for at least 1.27 million deaths per year, according to a study published in The Lancet by the Global Research on AntiMicrobial resistance (GRAM) project, who urged urgent action from policymakers and health communities to avoid further preventable deaths.

World map of global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance, colour-coded by country, showing the percentage of Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates with resistance to cephalosporin
Fluoroquinolone-resistant Escherichia coli (2019) (Source: Lancet)

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a leading cause of death globally, higher than HIV/AIDS or Malaria: AMR is responsible for at least 1.27 million deaths per year, one in 5 of them occurring in children under the age of 5.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. Leading pathogens are E. coli, K. pneumoniae, A. baumannii, S. aureus, and S. pneumoniae. With high levels of hospitalisations from COVID-19, there is a risk that the burden of AMR has already accelerated due to increased use of antibiotics.

Based on estimates across 204 countries and territories , the Global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 204 countries and territories in 2019 paper provides the most comprehensive estimates of the global impact of antibiotic resistance to date and reveals that AMR has now become a leading cause of death globally.

Common infections such as lower respiratory tract infections, bloodstream infections, and intra-abdominal infections are killing hundreds of thousands of people every year because bacteria have become resistant to treatment. This includes historically treatable illnesses, such as pneumonia, hospital-acquired infections, and foodborne ailments.

Past projections estimated that as many as 10 million annual deaths from AMR could occur by 2050. In 2022, as we now have access to these robust estimates, we know that we are already far closer to this figure than expected. AMR is already threatening the ability of hospitals to keep patients safe from infections and undermining the ability of doctors to carry out essential medical practice safely, including surgery, childbirth and cancer treatment.

Immediate actions can help countries around the world protect their health systems against the threat of AMR:

  • We need to take greater action to monitor and control infections, globally, nationally and within individual hospitals.
  • We must accelerate our support for infection prevention and control, as well as expand access to vaccines and clean water and sanitation.
  • We must optimise our use of antibiotics unrelated to treating human disease, such as in food and animal production, taking a One Health approach and recognising the interconnection between human and animal health.
  • It’s time to be more thoughtful about our use of antimicrobial treatments, expanding access to lifesaving antibiotics where needed, minimising use where they are not necessary to improve human health.
  • We must increase funding at every stage of the development pipeline for new antimicrobials targeting priority pathogens - from research for high priority bacteria, such as K. pneumoniae and E. coli, to securing access.

Authors of the paper are hopeful that, with this new data, the world is better equipped than ever to correct the trajectory. COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of global commitments to infection and control measures, such as hand washing and surveillance, and rapid investments in treatments.

GRAM team