Deaths caused by untreatable infection will overtake deaths caused by cancer by the year 2050. So says the first report produced by UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s working group on antimicrobial resistance, formed last July. As you look over the graphic keep this warning from the Cameron group in mind: “Despite the staggering size of the figures set out … they do not capture the full picture of what a world without antimicrobials would look like.”
The “full picture” of a world without these drugs means we will be forced to stop practicing medicine the way we do now. Stuff we have long taken for granted will be taken from us. The report gives us 3 concrete examples: surgery, cancer treatment, and child birth.
On surgery: “When most surgery is undertaken, patients are given prophylactic antibiotics to reduce the risk of bacterial infections. In a world where antibiotics do not work, this measure would become largely useless and surgery would become far more dangerous.”
On cancer treatment: “Modern cancer treatments often suppress patients’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to infections. Therefore without effective antibiotics to prevent or treat infection, chemotherapy would become a much riskier proposition.”
On childbirth: “Rising drug resistance would also have alarming secondary effects in terms of the safety of childbirth, including caesarean sections, with consequential increases in maternal and infant mortality. The 20th century saw childbirth in high income countries move from being something that carried significant risk to something that we take for granted as being safe: the world witnessed a 50-fold decrease in maternal deaths over the course of that century. Much of this progress could risk being undermined if AMR is allowed to continue rising significantly.”
Here’s the most important point: You and I have a role to play. We are are not meant to be mere bystanders. Since the problem is driven by the overuse of antibiotics our job is to lessen the demand. How so? Stop asking for antibiotics. That’s the message that people such as the Harvard School of Public Health are trying to get across. It’s well worth watching their presentation – meant for the public – by clicking on the preceding link.