The subject is one where it does not garner the attention of other serious health topics, but key stakeholders say it should.
When people think of public health preparedness, they often think in terms of threats such as biological weapons like anthrax or maybe even preparing against another COVID-19 type pandemic. However, one area within public health that is not given the same type of public awareness on a large scale is antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It affects millions of people who have drug-resistant infections and it is now estimated to kill over 1 million people worldwide, annually.
"It's not a tomorrow problem; it's a today's problem. There is about 1.3 million people that are dying every year, worldwide from antimicrobial resistant infections,” Morgane Vanbiervliet, PhD, manager of Market Intelligence & Business Development, Infectious Diseases, Debiopharm, said.
The mortality statistic Vanbiervliet stated relates to an analysis that was published in The Lancet last year. Investigators in that analysis estimated that resistance itself caused 1.27 million deaths in 2019, and that antimicrobial-resistant infections played a role in 4.95 million deaths.
The same analysis said that one of the leading causes of death was previously treatable infections (e.g lower respiratory and bloodstream infections) because of antibiotic-resistance. Drug resistance in 6 pathogens including E coli, S aureus, K pneumoniae, S pneumoniae, A baumannii, and P aeruginosa led directly to 929,000 deaths and was associated with 3.57 million. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) directly caused more than 100,000 deaths in 2019.
Across all pathogens, resistance to 2 classes of antibiotics (fluoroquinolones and beta-lactams), which are often the first line treatment against severe infections, accounted for more than an estimated 70% of deaths caused by AMR.
Vanbiervliet notes the AMR mortality burden is highest in low-and-middle income countries. The Lancet report showed that direct AMR mortality was believed to be the highest in both Sub-Saharan Africa (24 deaths per 100,000 population) and South Asia (22 deaths per 100,000 population), and AMR associated deaths were 99 per 100,000 in Sub-Saharan Africa and 77 per 100,000 in South Asia.
Vanbiervliet was a keynote panelist at the World AMR Congress held earlier this month. She discussed the importance of pushing AMR to the forefront of preparedness.
“This means that there should be a global awareness about the antimicrobial resistance threats, not only scientists, ID [infectious disease] physicians that are dealing with these kinds of infections, but everyone including governments need to be aware about these threats. And this awareness will enable us to move forward with implementation of solutions to combat antimicrobial resistance,” Vanbiervliet said.
Contagion spoke to Vanbiervliet who offered further insights into the challenges behind thinking of AMR on a bigger, global scale and what strategies can be done to decrease it.