The European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease (ESCMID) – an organisation that explores risk assessment, knowledge sharing and best practices in the fight against infectious disease – has warned that Britain and Europe collectively could face more than a million deaths in an impending “Antibiotic Armageddon” unless more is done to develop new cures, rapid diagnostics and preventative measures to combat the spread of drug resistant diseases.
Experts at ESCMID issued the warning ahead of its annual conference next week (Copenhagen, April 25–28) adding that without more money being spent on developing new drugs and the rationing of existing supplies, deaths across Europe could pass the grim milestone of a million by 2025. In Britain alone an estimated 10,000 people die a year and experts at ESCMID fear this number could triple, or even quadruple within the next 10 years.
Currently, the best available figures were published back in 2009 and estimated that around 25–30,000 Europeans die each year due to antimicrobial resistance and the total number of deaths is now over 400,000. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) will make 2013 figures available later this year. However, due to new outbreaks with almost impossible to treat microorganisms, ESCMID predicts that the current (true) mortality rate is almost certain to have risen significantly. Furthermore, ESCMID predicts that within the next 10 years, annual deaths in Europe could top 50,000 per year. The global position is even more critical, and by the year 2050, deaths per year are projected to rise to 10 million, surpassing major killers such as cancer, diabetes and road traffic accidents.
Murat Akova, ESCMID President, commenting on the scale of the problem: “The worrying aspect for Europe is that there is clearly a huge risk, particularly across some of the Mediterranean states. However, no one really knows just how big the problem currently is, let alone how big it’s going to become in the future. Although, we could see European national numbers remain broadly the same, it is far more likely to double, treble or even quadruple in the next 10 years. The other major problem is that bacteria do not respect country boundaries, so we are likely to see highly resistant microbes spreading out from nations with a more severe problem. We need both European-wide and global strategies, as well as national initiatives, as the problem will not remain regionalised for long.”
The worst affected nations in Europe are Greece, Spain and Italy, which are facing an imminent antibiotic Armageddon, as an increasing number of bacteria within these countries are now resistant to most, or all, forms of known antibiotics. ESCMID cautions that this is not simply down to the lack of new antibiotics, but is being exacerbated by poor monitoring and control of drugs supply, and insufficient infection control in many hospitals and institutions.
Worryingly, the implications of this change extend far beyond just a rising death toll, as it is fundamentally jeopardising modern healthcare, with costs rapidly increasing, and therapies and hospital stays being prolonged. The estimated global economic costs associated with this rise is $100 trillion, potentially resulting in a significant reduction in GDP [~6%] across all countries, with the poorest countries projected to experience the largest relative loss in GDP. The economic cost in Europe is already approximately €1.5 billion and rising.
Akova added, “Deaths in the UK alone could very easily triple over the next 10 years. But focusing only on the death toll by antimicrobial resistance obfuscates the gigantic problem of not being able to offer patients many of the modern healthcare victories. The rapid increase in antimicrobial resistance in Europe and the world is jeopardising modern healthcare. And resistance is spreading to the UK from across other European nations.”
This year’s annual congress will again bring this issue into acute focus and the society is calling on governments and the Pharma community to remain vigilant in the fight. ESCMID states that it is vital that new investments are made and we increase implementation of infection prevention and control strategies. Improved education and training is demanded, alongside further funding of R&D across new antibiotics, and crucially, increasing the durability of existing antibiotics through prudent use and antimicrobial stewardship.
The European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing – organised by ESCMID – functions as the breakpoint committee of EMA (European Medicines Agency) and ECDC, and will be announcing an update across European nations at this year’s congress.