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The rising antimicrobial crisis

By Hannah Williamson, a medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

In 2019, the Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance (Gram) report showed that antimicrobial resistance was directly responsible for 1.27 million deaths worldwide. It was also associated with an estimated 4.95 million deaths worldwide. To put this into context, HIV/Aids caused an estimated 860,000 deaths worldwide in 2019. Antimicrobial resistance is therefore posing a major threat to human health, which has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is antimicrobial resistance 

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of microorganisms to withstand antimicrobial treatments. This is caused by the overuse or misuse of antibiotics which renders treatment ineffective and poses a serious risk to public health. 

Increased AMR can cause longer hospital stays, severe infections and complications with treatment which ultimately increase mortality rates. Without working antibiotics, there is an increased likelihood that routine surgery will become too dangerous to perform and certain infections will no longer be treatable.

AMR poses a threat to people of all ages

The analysis of this urgent health issue was published in the Lancet. It was found that although AMR poses a threat to people of all ages, young children were at high risk with one in five deaths in children under age five attribute to AMR. The analysis highlights the urgent need to optimise the use of existing antibiotics and take greater action to monitor and control infections.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies AMR as one of the 13 urgent global health challenges to tackle within the next decade. The WHO is committed to reducing the threat of AMR by firstly addressing the root cause of the problem and secondly, actively prompting research and development into new antibiotics.

NHS England has responded to the crisis by adopting a subscription style payment model for antimicrobials. This will act as an incentive for companies to invest in the area which in turn will secure a pipeline of future treatment options for NHS patients. The initiative aims to set an example which will support the development of new antimicrobials and support sustainable supply and access to products in the future.

Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s special envoy on AMR highlights the most important point to take away from the stark figures: “Behind these new numbers are families and communities who are tragically bearing the brunt of the silent AMR pandemic”.  

Dame Sally warns that this data should be used to spur on action at all levels. Action on a global scale is imperative if we are to be successful with addressing AMR.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by care issues at our dedicated medical negligence section

Antimicrobial resistance poses a significant threat to humanity, health leaders have warned, as a study reveals it has become a leading cause of death worldwide and is killing about 3,500 people every day.”