Drug-Resistant Infections Will Be Deadlier than Cancer by 2050

By John Lavitt 01/23/15

Leaders and economists from across the pond are sounding the warning bell. In the U.S., not so much.

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A government report in the United Kingdom concludes that drug-resistant infections that are resistant to medicines will be deadlier than cancer by 2050.

Led by Jim O'Neill, a former Goldman Sachs economist and respected researcher, the study found that the cost worldwide of such infections would climb to $100 trillion annually. Estimated to have been the cause of more than 700,000 deaths globally in 2014, the findings suggests that such drug resistant “superbugs” will cause more than 10 million deaths by 2050.

Named the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, the study was commissioned earlier this year as a response to the rise of a horde of drug-resistant "superbugs," including new strains of malaria, tuberculosis, and E. coli. Based on research by RAND Europe, the study calls for a measured response to be taken as soon as possible as antibiotic failure rates climb across the world. The potential threat led the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron to warn of a new "dark ages of medicine" if the problem is not tackled.

"This is not some distant threat, but something happening right now," Cameron said. "If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine, where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again. That simply cannot be allowed to happen and I want to see a stronger, more coherent global response."

Economist Jim O’Neill said that such "superbugs" would hit the developing world hardest. Countries highlighted in the report as being in particular danger include India, Nigeria, and Indonesia from malaria, and Russia from tuberculosis. Without question, although developing countries would be the first to face the rising death tolls, everyone in every country would be threatened by the deadly consequences of drug-resistant infections.

Since new antibiotics take time and funding to produce, many pharmaceutical companies have slowed the development of these kinds of drugs to a crawl. If antibiotics become widely ineffectual, the health and economic ramifications could be devastating.

Nick Stern, president of the British Academy, professor of economics and government at the London School of Economics, and former chief economist of the World Bank, said in a statement, "The work of the group led by Jim O'Neill is of profound importance and this paper shows very convincingly the great scale of the risks, in terms of human lives and the economy, that are posed by this deeply worrying phenomenon."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.