WHO officials: Superbugs will increase global poverty, cost global economy $100T

A World Health Organization official is warning that the rising antibiotic resistance problem will have major implications beyond impacting the efficacy of the world's antibiotic supply.

In an appearance on Bloomberg's Daybreak Asia, World Health Organization Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda, MD, said antibiotic resistance and the proliferance of superbugs will impact the food industry and the world economy in a major way.

"What we're seeing right now is around the world we're really losing the ability to treat a whole host of infections," Dr, Fukuda said. "This is going to be really expensive and it's going to kill a lot of people."

The global community depends on antibiotics and antimicrobials to raise livestock and crops for agriculture, according to Dr. Fukuda. On Sept. 21, the United Nations General Assembly will convene a special high-level meeting to discuss the issue of antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Fukuda said this meeting is the first time the problem will be acknowledged and discussed at such a high level. He said the issue that should get top priority above all others is education and awareness.

"This is a here and now issue," Dr. Fukuda said. "Not a future issue."

Dr. Fukuda said although progress is slow, there is progress being made around the world in terms of farmers moving toward more sustainable antibiotic use in their practice. He said it's difficult to get such measures in place, but they work, and the same goes for drug companies that need to begin to expand the drug pipeline.

"What we're going to have to do is redefine the conditions so it's attractive enough for [drug makers] to come back into the market," Dr. Fukuda said. "It's not good enough just to make new medicines, we have to make sure that these medicines are available and accessible to people everywhere who need them."

That may require public-private partnerships or subsidies that could ensure companies wouldn't take too big of a financial hit for exploring new drugs.

In a statement released Monday, a World Bank representative estimated the global financial burden of unchecked antimicrobial resistance could skyrocket to $100 trillion by 2050.

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