Antibiotic resistance could become ‘greater threat than cancer’

George Osborne says the cost of doing nothing about antibiotci resistance is too great. Picture: Contributed

George Osborne says the cost of doing nothing about antibiotci resistance is too great. Picture: Contributed

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Greater investment in first-class diagnostic facilities is the only way to tackle the threat of antibiotic resistance, scientists have warned.

Chancellor George Osborne will say today that antimicrobial resistance could become “an even greater threat to mankind than cancer”, as more than ten million people a year could die globally by 2050 due to antibiotics failing to work against common infections.

Antibiotic resistance could cost the global economy around £70 trillion by 2050, the Chancellor will say to delegates at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in Washington.

He was expected to say: “Unless we take global action, antimicrobial resistance will become an even greater threat to mankind than cancer currently is.

“The cost of doing nothing, both in terms of lives lost and money wasted, is too great, and the world needs to come together to agree a common approach.”

More than four million antibiotic prescriptions were handed out in Scotland in 2014, despite attempts to curb unnecessary prescribing as more infections become immune to the medicines.

Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said faster diagnosis was key as it could prevent doctors from giving patients antibiotics they did not need or would not work against a particular strain of infection.

He said: “We haven’t behaved very well with antibiotic usage in the past, as we have used them too freely and often unnecessarily. The only way we can keep this problem at bay is by paying attention to each bug, rapid diagnosis and specialists on hand to give advice on treatment.”

Infection expert Professor Alistair Leanord said diagnostics was a “Cinderella service”, meaning it is often neglected in favour of other specialties.

Prof Leanord, director of the Scottish Infection Research Network at Glasgow University, said: “We don’t always know if we have a resistant bacteria until we have done a test.”

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