Antibiotic resistance caused 1.2 million deaths in 2019: AMR and its link to COVID-19 explained

A new study covering 204 countries showed that at least 1.2 million people died in 2019 due to drug-resistant bacterial infections, ahead of both HIV and malaria

FP Staff January 20, 2022 14:25:51 IST
Antibiotic resistance caused 1.2 million deaths in 2019: AMR and its link to COVID-19 explained

Image used for representative purposes. AFP

As the world battles the COVID-19 epidemic, the  antimicrobial resistance (AMR) pandemic looms in the shadows.

A recent study covering 204 countries published in The Lancet has found that 1.27 million people died in 2019 as a direct result of AMR, which is now a leading cause of death worldwide.

That's higher than HIV/AIDS or malaria.

Let's briefly examine this AMR pandemic and why it's giving doctors and medical experts across the world sleepless nights.

What is AMR?

Antimicrobial resistance occurs as bacteria evolve to be immune to antibiotics.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a global health crisis, setting up a task force to study alternative treatments.

An AFP report states that while antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon, humans have quickened the process through the widespread use and overuse of the powerful medicines.

A 2018 report from Johns Hopkins University found global consumption of antibiotics had increased 65 per cent from 2000 to 2015, driven by users in low- and middle-income countries.

What the study revealed

The study stated that at least 1.2 million people died in 2019 as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. In addition, the report, published in The Lancet, also found antimicrobial resistance played a role in up to 3.68 million other deaths.

"These new data reveal the true scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide, and are a clear signal that we must act now to combat the threat," said study co-author Chris Murray of the University of Washington.

"Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from antimicrobial resistance by 2050, but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought. We need to leverage this data to course-correct action and drive innovation if we want to stay ahead in the race against antimicrobial resistance,” he added.

The study revealed that drug resistance in lower respiratory infections – such as pneumonia – had the greatest impact on AMR disease burden, causing more than 400,000 deaths and associated with more than 1.5 million deaths.

Meanwhile, drug resistance in bloodstream infections – which can lead to the life-threatening condition sepsis – caused around 370,000 deaths and was associated with nearly 1.5 million deaths.

The study said that AMR deaths were highest in the Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia at 24 deaths per 100,000 population and 22 deaths per 100,000 population.

Antibiotic use in COVID fight

A research led by Washington University COVID of Medicine in St Louis, has found that sales of antibiotics skyrocketed during India’s first wave of coronavirus, suggesting that they were being used to treat Covid-19 patients.

The study’s senior author and infectious diseases specialist Sumanth Gandra was quoted as saying, "India is basically a poster child for antibiotic misuse in low- and middle-income countries with similar health-care practices."

The researchers’ analyses estimated that COVID-19 likely contributed to 216.4 million doses of total antibiotics and 38 million excess doses of azithromycin between June and September in 2021 – the period of peak epidemic activity.

Seeing a spike in the use of antibiotics, the Indian Council of Medical Research, as recently as 18 January, revised its COVID-19 management guidelines in which it stated that oral antivirals, antibiotics, monoclonal antibodies and vitamins had no place.

What can we do?

Antibiotics should be used sparingly, and the WHO suggests splitting the drugs into three categories for human use: Access, Watch and Reserve.

Antibiotics in the "Access" group should make up at least 60 per cent of total consumption, with drugs in the other categories reserved for cases where other antibiotics have failed, the WHO advises.

Favouring antibiotics in the Access group lowers the risk of resistance because they target a specific bacteria rather than several at once.

With inputs from agencies

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