Antimicrobial resistance is becoming prevalent due to climate change and other environmental factors, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme.
The leading environmental authority in the United Nations system recently published a report entitled “Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance.” In it, the organization provided evidence that the environment plays a key role in the development and transmission of superbugs.
Antimicrobial resistance or AMR refers to the phenomenon when germs, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, develop the ability to resist, defeat or evade the medications designed to kill them.
“The development and spread of AMR means that antimicrobials used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants might turn ineffective, with modern medicine no longer able to treat even mild infections,” the organization said, as per CNN.
Cleaning products, plant pesticides and medications with antimicrobials are designed to kill and prevent the spread of bacteria, viruses and fungi among people, animals, crops and objects. But when the germs develop antimicrobial resistance, the products would not be effective against them.
In 2019, an estimated 5 million deaths worldwide were linked to antimicrobial resistance. The annual death toll is expected to increase to 10 million by 2050 unless steps are taken to counter this phenomenon.
While experts recognize that the overuse of antimicrobials in people, animals and food production contributed to the rise in superbugs, they found growing evidence that environmental factors play a big role in the development, transmission and spread of these superbugs.
“The same drivers that cause environmental degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem. The impacts of antimicrobial resistance could destroy our health and food systems,” Inger Andersen, the UN Environment Programme’s executive director, said at the Sixth Meeting of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance in Barbados on Tuesday.
UN’s One Health, an integrated, unifying approach that seeks to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems, aims to help reduce the risk and burden of AMR on societies by spreading awareness on how the health of people, animals, plants and the environment are interdependent.
“Climate change, pollution, changes in our weather patterns, more rainfall, more closely packed, dense cities and urban areas – all of this facilitates the spread of antibiotic resistance. And I am certain that this is only going to go up with time unless we take relatively drastic measures to curb this,” Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the UN report, told CNN.