A new report from the U.N. Environment Program warns that as many as 10 million people could die from so-called "Superbugs" annually by 2050 as the result of antimicrobial resistance driven by environmental pollution and irresponsible practices from a range of industries.
The report, titled Bracing for Superbugs, explains how pollution from hospital wastewater, sewage discharged from pharmaceutical production facilities, and run-off from animal and plant agriculture can be rife with "not only resistant microorganisms, but also antimicrobials, various pharmaceuticals, microplastics, metals, and other chemicals, which all increase the risk of AMR [antimicrobial resistance] in the environment."
According to the study, the pharmaceutical industry frequently releases untreated wastewater containing "active pharmaceutical ingredients" such as "antibiotics, antivirals, and fungicides, as well as disinfectants."
From the agricultural industry, the report warns that the "use of antimicrobials to treat infection and promote growth" among livestock, the "use of reclaimed wastewater for irrigating crops, use of manure as fertilizer, and inadequate waste management" all serve as entry points for AMR organisms into the environment.
"The same drivers that cause environmental degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem," said Andersen at the sixth meeting of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (GLGAMR) in Barbados. "The impacts of anti-microbial resistance could destroy our health and food systems. Cutting down pollution is a prerequisite for another century of progress towards zero hunger and good health."
Currently, AMR is linked to as many as 1.27 million deaths per year.