Why should we care about antibiotic resistance and superbugs?

A small cut in the hand, a boil here, a wound elsewhere, what seems like a simple fever or food poisoning… all these were life threatening at times not so long ago. Sometimes, even minor surgeries resulted in more deaths than cures. The chance discovery of Penicillin by Alexander Fleming in the last century changed all that. It paved way to a golden era in medicine and antibiotics proved to be a powerful tool in treating life threatening infections.

However, in recent times there is an increase in deaths caused by infections once again, as bacteria are developing resistance to these drugs and evolving into ‘superbugs’ that are hard to treat. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics is speeding up this process. Some estimates with data from USA, UK and children in India indicate that there is a death due to infections caused by a ‘superbug’ every 4 minutes! There are currently 700,000 deaths worldwide due to antibiotic resistance forecast to increase to 10 million by 2050, more deaths than cancer!

India is at the forefront of the global epidemic of antibiotic resistance. Studies estimate that 58,000 newborns in India die each year due to infections caused by resistant superbugs. There is significantly high incidence of inappropriate use of antibiotics and resistance in India due to their easy availability and misinformed consumption. While India is the largest consumer of antibiotics for human health in the previous decade, a recent study indicates that 64% of antibiotics sold in India are unapproved. Further, estimates indicate that 80% of global antibiotics are manufactured in India and China, the effluent from the pharmaceutical industry further adding to the problem. There have also been alarming reports of last-resort antibiotics like Colistin being used in the poultry industry in India. The recent ban on Colistin usage in animal farming and aquaculture by Indian government is a welcome move.

We find ourselves in a race against these fast evolving resistant ‘superbugs’ and to prevent infections from once again becoming one of the major killers. We are fast running out of available antibiotics that can treat some of these superbugs and there are not enough new antibiotics in the pipeline to save us from these resistant bacteria. There is therefore an urgent need to initiate and sustain a dialogue on antibiotic resistance.

If we don’t act now, the world will run out of antibiotics, surgeries will become a thing of the past and simple cuts and wounds may once again become life threatening.

We believe that there is an urgent need for each of us to become ‘superheroes’ in this crusade against superbugs, as much as we need our scientists and governments to tackle this threat.  

In the video below hear experts discuss pertinent themes such as tackling the antibiotic resistance crisis alongside COVID-19 and learnings from the pandemic to address AMR; dealing with the access-excess conundrum in India and how to effectively communicate about AMR in the country; impact of human stories with on-ground realities and lived experiences on behavior change; and, R&D developments to address AMR – overcoming the challenge of developing novel therapeutics.