PARIS: Millions of people in Europe, North America and Australia will die of superbug infections unless countries prioritize the growing threats that the bacteria are immunized against most famous drugs, experts calculated Wednesday.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned of "catastrophic consequences" for public health care and spending on non-basic medical hygiene increases and unnecessary use of antibiotics slashed.
Drug resistant bacteria killed more than 33,000 people in Europe 2015, according to new research published separately this week.
In a landmark report, the OECD said that 2.4 million people could die by superbugs in 2050 saying that the cost of treating such infections would mean that the balloon on average amounted to $ 3.5 billion a year in each country included in the analysis.
Michele Cecchini, leader of public health at the OECD, told AFP that the countries already spent an average of 10 percent of their healthcare budgets in the treatment of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bugs.
"AMR costs more than flu, more than HIV, more than tuberculosis. And it will cost even more if countries do not take action to address this problem," he said.
Enormous death penalty
Because people are consuming more and more antibiotics – either through prescription or agriculture and animal products that are given medicines to prevent infection – bacteria develop that resist the effects of drugs that are destined to kill them.
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 growth of AMR infections is expected to be between four and seven times faster by 2030 than at present.
"Such high levels of resistance in healthcare systems, which have already been weakened by limited budgets, will create the conditions for an enormous death disorder, which will primarily be borne by newborns, very young children and the elderly," reports the report.
"Even small cuts in the kitchen, minor surgery or diseases like pneumonia can be life-threatening."
Perhaps more worrying is the OECD's prediction that the resistance to so-called 2nd and 3rd line biology – infection treatment treatment glass in case of emergency – will be balloon by 70% by 2030.
"These are antibiotics as far as possible, we do not want to use because we want those as backed up," said Cecchini.
"In essence, we use more when we use less and we are running out of our best alternatives in case of emergency."
How to avoid disaster
The group, which advises the World Health Organization on Public Health Initiatives, said that the only way to ward off disaster was to implement immediate, cross-sectoral changes in behavior.
The report called on healthcare professionals to ensure better universal hygiene standards in hospitals and clinics by insisting that all employees wash their hands and comply with stricter security systems.
It also suggested that resistance could be combated with better and faster testing to determine whether an infection is viral – which means that antibiotics are useless – or bacterial.
New tests may result in a few minutes, and Cecchini also puts the idea of "delayed prescriptions" for overdose of antibiotics by waiting three days before taking antibiotics – approximately the time it takes for a viral infection to drive its course.
In the trials of technology, never two-thirds of patients delayed prescriptions for antibiotics collected their medicine.
The OECD said such changes would cost as little as $ 2 (1.7 euro) per person per year and would save millions of lives and billions of dollars in the middle of the century.
"They would reduce AMR's burden in these countries by 75%," said Cecchini. "It would pay in a couple of months and would generate big savings."