China Can Lead the Fight on Superbugs

Jim O'Neill

December 28, 2014

Bloomberg View

One of the most potent threats to global economic prosperity is too little discussed. Resistance to antibiotics, caused in large part by overuse and misuse, is already well established and recognized by specialists as a problem -- but it doesn't yet frighten the public. It should.

I've been looking into the issue closely since I was appointed chairman of a review into antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by the U.K. government. We've just published some interim findings -- and I have to tell you, I'm alarmed. This danger needs to sink in. The scale of the problem, left unattended, is truly unsettling.

Infections resistant to antibiotics claim about 50,000 lives each year across the European Union and U.S. Hundreds of thousands more deaths are thought to be attributable to AMR worldwide. A low estimate of the global total might be 700,000 deaths a year -- about half as many as are caused by traffic accidents, or diabetes, or diarrheal disease. (There were an estimated 480,000 new cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis alone in 2013, most which went untreated.)

By 2050, the global total of AMR-related deaths could be more than 10 times bigger, at 10 million a year. That's more than the current global toll of deaths from cancer. The economic cost would be staggering as well, at a cumulative $100 trillion, or roughly six years' worth of U.S. gross domestic product.

Continue reading