A microbiologist at the Max-Planck-Institute for Infection Biology prepares a bacterial colony of Streptococcus pyogenes strain on a blood agar plate.
Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images
Already recognized As one of the top public health threats facing humanity today, it is feared that a warming world is making it harder to contain the insidious spread of drug-resistant superbugs.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which the World Health Organization has referred to as “silent pandemic”, is an often overlooked and growing global health crisis.
The United Nations Health Organization has previously named AMR as one of the top 10 global threats to human health and says that is appreciated 1.3 million people die each year directly from resistant pathogens.
This number is on track to “rise dramatically“without urgent action, says the WHO, leading to higher public health, economic and social costs and pushing more people into poverty, particularly in low-income countries.
Antimicrobials, which include life-saving antibiotics and antivirals, are medicines used to prevent and treat infections in humans and animals. However, their overuse and misuse is known to be the main driver of AMR.
AMR occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites develop the ability to persist or even grow despite the presence of drugs designed to kill them.
People look at the fire raging in a forest in Sykorachi, near Alexandroupolis, northern Greece, on August 23, 2023.
Sakis Metrolidis | Afp | Getty Images
Making matters worse, research has shown that climate change is exacerbating the AMR crisis in several ways.
“Climate change is inherently important because of what’s happening to our planet, and the problem is that the more our temperatures rise, the more infectious diseases can spread — and that includes AMR bacteria,” Tina Joshi, associate professor of molecular microbiology in the UK. Plymouth University, told CNBC via conference call.
“The AMR bacterium is known as a silent pandemic. The reason it’s known as silent is that no one knows about it – and it’s really sad that no one seems to care,” Joshi said.
A report published by the UN Environment Program earlier this year, titled “Support for Superbugs”, illustrates the role of the climate crisis and other environmental factors in the development, spread and transmission of AMR.
These include higher temperatures associated with the rate of spread of antibiotic resistance genes among microorganisms, the emergence of AMR due to the continued disruption of extreme weather events, and increased pollution that creates favorable conditions for the development of resistance in microorganisms.
Scientists said earlier this month that a stunning string of global temperature records means 2023 is “almost certain” to be the hottest year on record. Extreme heat is fueled by the climate crisis, which makes extreme weather events more frequent and more intense.
Rob Butler, director of the division of communicable diseases, environment and health at WHO Europe, described AMR as “an extremely pressing global health challenge”.
“It’s a huge health burden and costs EU member states alone somewhere in the region of 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) a year in health costs and lost productivity. So it’s an amazing challenge,” he said. Butler to CNBC by phone.
Butler said he hoped the upcoming COP28 climate conference in the United Arab Emirates could provide a platform for international policymakers to begin to recognize the link between the climate crisis and AMR. The UAE will host the annual UN climate summit from 30 November to 12 December.
“The problem is that, of course, antibiotics or antimicrobials are not that attractive for industrial development. They’re expensive, they’re high-risk — and we haven’t seen in the last 20 years that antimicrobial drugs have been developed with enough unique characteristics to avoid resistance.”
“We hear people talk about this ‘silent pandemic,’ but it shouldn’t be silent. We should be making more noise about it,” Butler said.
“You can imagine it [coronavirus] The pandemic could have been a wake-up call, but we still don’t see enough attention on AMR.”
A Petri dish marking the bacterial contamination of tray tables at the stand for Polygiene AB, which offers antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-odor technology, at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Butler said perhaps his biggest concern was how to incentivize industry leaders to tackle AMR at a time when they are fully aware that they might be better off investing in other areas of research and development – such as making a highly profitable drug for obesity, for example.
“For me, that’s what keeps me up at night,” Butler said. “I can think of how society can change through shocks to use antibiotics more judiciously so that we don’t build antibiotic resistance. But if there’s absolutely nothing in the pipeline with innovative features, then we’ve lost,” he added. . “And that really, really concerns me.”
Plymouth University’s Joshi echoed this view, describing the AMR diagnostic pipeline as “completely broken” and calling on policymakers to urgently revitalize this process.
“It’s not a profit,” he added. “It kind of boils down to the fact that it’s not economically viable to really invest in antibiotics and their development. And that’s something that’s shaking up the antimicrobial world.”
Thomas Schinecker, chief executive of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, said last month that policymakers risk not learning the necessary lessons from the coronavirus pandemic – adding that this could have serious consequences for the AMR health crisis.
“I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons we should have learned in the last pandemic, and I don’t think we’re better prepared for the next pandemic,” Schinecker said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Oct. 19. .
“I think it’s important to take that knowledge, to apply what we need to do to be prepared for when the next pandemic comes,” he continued.
“One of the concerns I have is that potentially antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be this pandemic. With that, we need to focus on preparing for such situations in the future.”