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09 Feb 2022

Lancet global burden of antimicrobial resistance analysis highlights urgent need for action

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a major and rapidly growing threat to public health globally. New evidence recently published by The Lancet demonstrates the significant impact AMR is causing to global health, with more than 1.2 million deaths attributable to antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in 2019 alone.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat as well as increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. The overuse and misuse of antimicrobials impacts the effectiveness and sustainability of modern medicine against the enduring threat of infectious diseases.

In the most comprehensive analysis to date of the burden of AMR,  the Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance (GRAM) report findings show AMR is now the leading cause of death worldwide, exceeding the death toll caused by HIV/Aids or malaria.

The GRAM project is a collaboration led by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the University of Oxford and was funded by the Fleming Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust.

Using 471 million individual records obtained from systematic literature reviews, hospital systems, surveillance systems and other sources from more than 200 countries and territories, the GRAM report estimates 1.27 million deaths were attributable to bacterial AMR for 23 pathogens and 88 pathogen–drug combinations in 2019.

In the Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania regions alone, over 254,000 deaths were found to be directly attributable to AMR during the same year.

“Health leaders have warned that AMR is the next major health threat we will face,” says University of Melbourne Professor Ben Howden, Co-Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Antimicrobial Resistance at the Doherty Institute.  

“The estimates of both deaths attributable to and associated with AMR are significant, highlighting the urgent need for intervention strategies to help save lives,”

Five key strategies to address the rising threat of AMR were discussed in the GRAM report, including infection prevention and control (IPC), antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) and maintaining the development pipeline for new antibiotics.

“The WHO Collaborating Centre for Antimicrobial Resistance was launched to provide support in the Western Pacific Region through strengthening and building capacity of IPC protocols, AMS practices and laboratory surveillance,” explains Professor Howden.

“Findings in the GRAM report provide an opportunity to advocate for change to policies and practices to improve health systems, both globally and in our region. The Collaborating Centre will continue our work with member states to form One Health approaches to mitigate the damage caused by AMR.”