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Antimicrobial resistance will be “as serious as Covid-19”

Experts warn that scientists and doctors are poorly prepared for the effects of drug-resistant bacteria.

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could be the next global health crisis. “It’s not yet on the scale of Covid, but it will be,” the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s Dr Adam Roberts told the New Statesman’s Future of Healthcare conference on Thursday afternoon (27 October). The search for a solution to drug-resistant microbes, Roberts added, would take “a lot longer” than it took to develop Covid-19 vaccines.

Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said she “absolutely agreed” with Roberts. “This is often referred to as the silent epidemic, or, increasingly, the silent pandemic.” Both the scientific and medical communities, Harries added, were ill-prepared to monitor and track potential risks surrounding AMR. “If we don’t do that,” Harries said, “and increasingly we don’t have good surveillance mechanisms to monitor exactly what is happening in the world of antimicrobial resistance, we probably won’t get the evidence to understand what the real risk is.”

In 2014 David Cameron, as prime minister, commissioned a review of AMR. He warned that if left unaddressed we could face the “unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine”. 

In a recent interview with the New Statesman Sally Davies, the government’s special envoy on AMR, said that solving the issue was “as complex as climate change”, and that the lack of progress was the result of failures of policy, innovation, investment and action. “You only have to look in the developing world to see when they haven’t got access [to antibiotics] how many people die of infections that aren’t treatable,” said Davies. “If they aren’t treatable because of resistance, then we’ve lost modern medicine.”

[See also: Healthcare strikes not in the best interests of patients or NHS, says Wes Streeting]

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