Tackling antibiotic resistance could become one of the biggest struggles of our time, according to new research by the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis (APPG TB).
An overuse and misuse of antimicrobials has allowed some of the planet's deadliest diseases to start winning the battle against man-made drugs, and the situation is only set to get worse unless new drugs are developed quickly.
The report, released to mark World Tuberculosis Day, predicts that six per cent could be knocked off global GDP over the next 35 years, as higher death rates cause huge labour force losses and a resulting plunge in productivity.
The calculation is based on a worst-case scenario, in which current infection rates of HIV, Tuberculosis (TB), Malaria and three different types of bacteria double by 2050, while the disease-causing microorganisms gain 100 per cent resistance in 156 economies worldwide.
Overall, 700m people would die as a result of the problem and $14 trillion (£9 trillion) would be lost. This amounts to more than the whole economies of China, Russia and India combined.
Poor countries will suffer the most
While GDP will drop across the world, it will be low-income countries that suffer the most, widening the gap between developed and developing nations.
Among the lowest income countries, average GDP will drop 16.49 per cent – much greater than the average of six per cent. Among the highest income countries, however, there will be a comparatively small drop of 4.04 per cent.
Africa will have a fifth wiped off
Considering all of Africa on its own, antimicrobial resistance could lead to a 20 per cent drop in GDP by 2050 – far higher than any other continent. The next highest drop will occur in Asia, where the fall will be 6.27 per cent.
In North America, where the effect will be least noticeable, there will be a drop of 3.17 per cent, highlighting how much the world average will be swayed by the escalating problem in Africa.
Resistant TB: A huge brake on the economy
TB, which currently kills an estimated 1.5m people every year, is one of the most concerning diseases for growing drug resistance, and it is driven by a lack of awareness about the disease, according to the report.
Each year, an estimated three million people – a third of everyone who falls ill – are not officially diagnosed or treated for TB. Some are treated using sub-standard drugs, making the situation ripe for resistant bacteria to breed. It is also the only major drug-resistant infection that can spread through the air, aiding widespread infection.
For this reason, an estimated 500,000 people fell ill with multi-drug resistant TB in 2013, and it is predicted 75m people will lose their lives to it over the next 35 years.
By 2050 the airborne infection could cost the global economy $16.7 trillion – the equivalent of the entire economic output of the European Union.
What can be done?
“We need better tools to deal with this new threat, but since TB primarily affects the poorest and most vulnerable in society, there is little commercial incentive to develop new drugs,” said Nick Herbert, co-chairman of the APPG TB.
“It will require significant, globally coordinated action to address this market failure, which is why the Prime Minister’s leadership on AMR has been so important.”
Solutions suggested by the report include developing new drugs with new mechanisms of action, creating new vaccines to protect a wider range of people against the disease, and identifying whether a patient's TB is resistant to drugs before prescribing treatments.