08 Feb 2023
Curb pollution to control superbugs: UNEP
Around 10 million people could die annually by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a report launched in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Tuesday, highlighting the need to curtail pollution created by the pharmaceuticals, agricultural and healthcare sectors.  The study highlights how the major causes of this looming crisis are […]

Around 10 million people could die annually by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a report launched in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Tuesday, highlighting the need to curtail pollution created by the pharmaceuticals, agricultural and healthcare sectors. 

The study highlights how the major causes of this looming crisis are the waste generated by pharmaceutical, healthcare, and agricultural sectors. It only gets worse once sewage water and community waste gets added to the equation. Bacteria along with extremely resistant viruses, parasites and fungi are collectively known as superbugs. This resistance is a natural result of genetic mutation caused by the very medicines that are made to treat the infections caused by them. These superbugs can cause infections like pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and skin infections.

According to the Executive Director of UNEP Inger Andersen, the “triple planetary loss” of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution has added extensively to this problem of superbugs.

As the World Health Organization puts it, AMR is one of the top ten worldwide threats to human health. To give an example, superbugs were directly responsible for over 1.27 million deaths and around five million fatalities globally.

The report highlights the urgent need to curtail waste being generated by the culprit industries and take stringent action to prevent the emergence, transmission, and spread of these superbugs. The report suggests a multisectoral arrangement from UNEP, WHO, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) – One Health Framework.

The worsened health conditions would also impact the economy, which could suffer a loss of around $3.4 trillion annually in Gross Domestic Products (GDP) by the end of this decade. This would render over 24 million extremely poor.

As part of measures suggested by the report, an international standard to figure out a microbiological indicator of AMR is to be established. Special emphasis is required in managing the global water supply, restructuring of governance and planning frameworks at national levels, and moving effectively towards sustainable development.

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