How much might antimicrobial resistance cost? $100 trillion.

Posted on December 11, 2014   by Benjamin Thompson

Today at the Wellcome Trust’s headquarters in London, economist Jim O’Neill will launch Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations, the first paper from the economic review he chairs that will investigate the growing problem of drug resistance in bacteria, viruses and parasites.


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been frequently covered in the news from a scientific angle, but this paper is perhaps the first time a large-scale economic analysis has been attempted. The numbers raised in this report are staggering. Working with the analyst companies RAND Europe and KPMG, O’Neill and his team have estimated that by 2050, AMR could cause 10 million extra deaths annually and a cumulative loss to world GDP of $100 trillion.

In the scenario they describe, with microbes becoming resistant to some (if not all) drugs, the burden of AMR will not be equally shared across the globe. The paper estimates that the vast majority of AMR-related deaths will occur in Africa and Asia, with O’Neill stating that almost 2 million extra lives could be lost each year in India and that more than 1 in 4 deaths in Nigeria could be attributable to AMR by 2050.

In the paper, the team also stress that there would be serious secondary effects associated with a lack of effective drugs. In particular, they highlight four areas of modern medicine that are only possible thanks to antibiotics: caesarean sections, joint replacement, improved chemotherapy and organ transplants.

We’re yet to see the data associated with this report to understand how these numbers were calculated, and this is clearly only the first part of the overall review, so it will be interesting to see what else emerges when further papers from the review are published.

The report ends with a call for coordinated action that “… spans drug regulation and antimicrobial drug use across humans, animals and the environment…”, and describes AMR as a “… crisis that can be averted if the world takes action soon.” As Jim O’Neill himself said when launching the report, “The cost of stopping the problem is significantly lower than not stopping the problem.”

You can read the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance report.