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Failure of some prescription drugs could kill 10 million annually by 2050, Davos leaders warn, calling the issue a ‘silent pandemic’ Stella Kyriakides, European Union commissioner for health and food safety, speaks at the session “Facing a World Without Antibiotics” at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on Tuesday. Antimicrobial resistance currently causes over 1 million deaths each year and contributes to 5 millions, experts say. By 2050, it could cause as many as 10 million deaths annually.

As many as 10 million people a year could die by 2050 due to the failure of prescription drugs, as viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens evolve to evade them, and science fails to keep up.That was the assertion of experts at the World Economic Forum’s session on antimicrobial resistance, held Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland. In 2019, before the pandemic, nearly 1.3 million people died due to the problem, which contributed to another 5 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization. What’s more, the issue comes with an enormous economic price tag—potentially $100 trillion or more by 2050, according to some estimates, due to factors like health care costs and lost productivity. That’s approximately 1% of global GDP.“That’s trillion with a T,” Shyam Bishen—head of the Centre for Health and Healthcare and member of the World Economic Forum’s executive committee—emphasized at the event.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when pathogens genetically alter themselves in response to the medications used against them. Already, infections are becoming more difficult—and sometimes impossible—to treat, with reports of multidrug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug resistant (XDR) infections—like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted infections—on the rise.Eventually, the slow burn of AMR could ignite a blazing firestorm, experts warn, ushering in a “post-antibiotic era.”Even appropriate use of antimicrobials can contribute to the issue; inappropriate use only makes matters worse. Some patients demand such prescriptions from health care providers when they’re not needed. And some practitioners bend under the pressure. Perhaps a doctor prescribes antibiotics—which should be used to treat bacterial infections—for a viral condition. Or maybe they dole out antibiotics to a patient with a minor unknown illness while they wait for diagnostics to return.Heavy use of antimicrobials in critically ill patients can create a breeding ground for pathogen evolution, with the hospitals ripe for spread. Outside of human medicine, antibiotics are added to agricultural feed in a bid to keep livestock healthy, inadvertently fueling AMR. In fact, more than half of the antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in agriculture, according to the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

By: Erin Prater, Health-Public Health