Published: 12:14, February 8, 2023 | Updated: 12:14, February 8, 2023
UNEP: Antimicrobial resistance threat to global health security
By Xinhua

In this Nov 25, 2013 file photo, a microbiologist works with tubes of bacteria samples in an antimicrobial resistance and characterization lab within the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. (PHOTO / AP)

NAIROBI - The growing crisis of antimicrobial resistance presents an existential threat to the health of humans, animals, food crops, and the natural world, says the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a report launched in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Tuesday.

Partly fueled by untreated waste emanating from mechanized agriculture and healthcare industries, antimicrobial resistance could trigger up to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, similar to the 2020 rate of global cancer fatalities, the report says.

In addition, the inability of drugs widely used to treat infections caused by pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and fungi could lead to an about $3.4 trillion-slump in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually, pushing an additional 24 million people on the verge of extreme poverty, according to the UNEP report.

Under the title of "Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance", the report notes that industrial pollution, disruptions in the natural world, and extreme weather events are also behind the spread of superbugs, which are resistant to conventional drugs

Executive Director of the UNEP Inger Andersen noted that drivers of ecological degradation like pollution and biodiversity loss are also worsening antimicrobial resistance, to the detriment of the global sustainability agenda.

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"The impacts of antimicrobial resistance could destroy our health and food systems. Cutting down pollution is a prerequisite for another century of progress toward zero hunger and good health," said Andersen.

Under the title of "Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance", the report notes that industrial pollution, disruptions in the natural world, and extreme weather events are also behind the spread of superbugs, which are resistant to conventional drugs.

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The global burden of antimicrobial resistance, if unchecked, could worsen poverty, gender inequalities, and food insecurity, the UNEP said, noting that listed antimicrobial resistance among the top ten threats to global health security.

"Failing to address the global burden of antimicrobial resistance, including its environmental dimensions, could take humanity back to an era when even mild infections could become deadly," the report says.

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In a bid to tame the antimicrobial resistance crisis, the UNEP report proposes better management of waste from pharmaceutical and agriculture sectors, the use of degradable antibiotics, the establishment of a robust monitoring and regulatory regime, collaborative research, and public awareness.