The Day the Earth Stood Still

Last week we wrote about the new British report that said drug resistant infections will cause more deaths than cancer by 2050.

We focused on how untreatable infections will fundamentally change how we practice medicine, citing 3 examples: an increased inability to treat cancer; an increase in deaths during child birth – to mother and child; and how surgery will become too dangerous to perform in most cases.

There is, crucially, a whole other aspect to the global rise of drug resistant infection that is stressed in the report. It is summed up in one sentence by the lead author, former Goldman Sachs economist Jim Nill, in the video below, where he says:

“Something like this which is going to affect everybody; you know it could have a devastating impact on international trade and travel and globalization.

A devastating economic and social impact – what does he mean?

Remember the great American Ebola freakout of 2014? The one where, in the US, 1 person died and a half a dozen or so were sick but recovered. Well, what if the number of deaths in the US and Canada was not 1, but, as the report predicts concerning drug resistant infection, over 300,000? What if the number of infected people were several multiples of that? And what if these infections, unlike Ebola, are airborne – meaning you catch them easily, the way you catch the cold or the flu?

Deaths attributable to drug resistant infections every year, by 2050

A partial answer to these questions has been before our eyes for the past 6 months or so with Ebola virus disease in West Africa. As of yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 8,000 deaths and over 21,000 cases.

As a consequence, life over there has stood comparatively still. Take just 2 brief examples.

The World Bank reported this month that in Liberia “The Ebola virus has tempered our economy. It has hurt our economic investments. Our businesses have been closed down and our country has been abandoned.”

And from the Financial Times in October: Airlines, hotels, tour operators and cruise businesses are resigned to a period of crisis management as investors retreat from their stocks on fears that the Ebola threat will blunt people’s willingness to travel.”

Now imagine that scenario playing out over here and in Europe and you have the kind of “devastating impact,” from the rise of drug resistant infections “which is going to affect everybody,” that the conservative, experienced, elite economist Jim Nill is warning us about.

In other words, closed businesses, truncated trade and travel, investment crises, and other globalization effects will be such that the world could virtually end up at a stand still — and don’t forget the fear that will accompany it all.

Here’s the brief video where Mr. Nill and a few others voice these stark concerns:

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