Antimicrobial Resistance: A silent tsunami

The increasing use of antibiotics is a public health and animal husbandry time bomb, reports Brian Johnson

Antimicrobial Resistance | Photo credit: The Parliament Magazine

By Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is Managing Editor of The Parliament Magazine

15 Nov 2017

Imagine there was a disease that killed one person every three seconds. Imagine 10 million people dying every year. Imagine a world where commonplace hospital operations carried a 40 per cent chance of death. Would it be too exaggerating to call such a scenario the “end of modern medicine”?

Well, currently there isn’t such a disease that takes 20 lives a minute, 10 million people aren’t yet at risk and our hospitals are still carrying out operations, but the relentless march of microbes that are resistant to modern antibiotics is a looming, global health crisis that threatens all the above and more.

Recently the Parliament Magazine teamed up with our friends at the PA International Foundation to produce an in-depth special supplement on the devastating impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).


The European Parliament has been raising the alarm on the issue, warning that resistance to antibiotics “Is expected to become the world’s largest cause of death.” Currently, the EU estimates that 25,000 people die of AMR in Europe annually.

However, concrete figures show that at least 12,000 people die of AMR in the UK alone. This makes up almost half of the overall European estimate, so the fact that the UK accounts for only 13 per cent of Europe’s population suggests that the death toll could be much higher than currently anticipated.

Commenting on the looming health crisis, Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, cautioned that should we return to a pre-antibiotics era, “40 per cent of people could die of infections.”

Former WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan has also warned that a post-antibiotics era would, in effect, mean “The end of modern medicine as we know it. If current trends continue, sophisticated medical procedures such as organ transplantation, joint replacements, cancer chemotherapy, and care of pre-term infants, will become more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake.”

"Recently the Parliament Magazine teamed up with our friends at the PA International Foundation to produce an in-depth special supplement on the devastating impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)"

During the recent Scientific, Human Health, Husbandry, and Socio-Economic Aspects of Antibacterial Resistance: Time to Act conference in June in the European Parliament, Professor Ramanan Laxminarayan, director and senior fellow of the US Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, remarked that 92 million surgeries take place per year in low-income countries, with 5.5 million surgical site infections. “Between 400,000 and a million deaths from these are caused by resistant pathogens.” Children are notably susceptible.

75 per cent of all antimicrobials in Europe and the United States are used in agriculture, primarily as growth promoters. An AMR crisis would be comparable to the global financial crisis.

The UK Review on AMR has calculated that by 2050 - when including the secondary impacts of AMR - the total global GDP loss could amount to $210 trillion.

Aquaculture is a major source of protein in developing countries. 60 per cent or more of the protein in certain lower income countries (54 per cent in Indonesia) stems from fish which is believed to be infested with antibiotics. Aquaculture systems and farms have been described as “genetic reactors” and “hotspots for AMR genes”. Troublingly, data on antibiotics use in aquaculture is very scarce.

Despite being primed to become one of the major global killers, AMR and its causes are not widely understood by the general population and policymakers.

An unrecognised threat, it lingers in the shadows, but could become what Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for health and food safety, dubbed, a “silent Tsunami”.

With comment and analysis from a range of experts and with a foreword from MEPs Pavel Poc, Adina-Ioana Vălean and Fredrick Federley, our recent special 28 page AMR supplement, Time to act is a must read. Download a digital copy