Antimicrobial resistance strategy: will the U.K. be ready on time in case of superbug outbreak?

British superbug outbreak ‘could kill 80,000’

A Government report warns that tens of thousands could die because of new strains of bacteria and viruses resistant to drugs. The report describes some of the actions being taken.

An increasingly serious issue is the development and spread of AMR, which occurs when drugs are no longer effective in treating infections caused by microorganisms. Without effective antibiotics, even minor surgery and routine operations could become high-risk procedures, leading to increased duration of illness and ultimately
premature mortality. Much of modern medicine (for example, organ transplantation, bowel surgery and some cancer treatments) may become unsafe due to the risk of infection. In addition, influenza pandemics would become more serious without effective treatments.

The numbers of infections complicated by AMR are expected to increase markedly over the next 20 years. If a widespread outbreak were to occur, we could expect around 200,000 people to be affected by a bacterial blood infection that could not be treated effectively with existing drugs, and around 80,000 of these people might die. High numbers of deaths could also be expected from other forms of antimicrobial resistant infection.

AMR is a global problem and the UK Government, in conjunction with the devolved administrations, is leading work with international partners to secure support for concerted action at a global level. Coordinated international action is needed to tackle AMR as a priority issue through the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN bodies.

The Department of Health, the NHS, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate are working together with other partners to lead the implementation of the UK five-year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy, published in September 2013. This work is overseen by a cross-government highlevel steering group comprising government departments and agencies and the devolved administrations. In June 2014 it published the measures which are being used to assess the impact of the actions being taken across the UK to reduce the spread of AMR and improve antibiotic prescribing. The high-level steering group’s Progress report and implementation plan was published on 11 December 2014.

In addition, in July 2014, the Prime Minister commissioned a review of AMR. The review, chaired by Jim O’Neil, is independent of government and is international in focus. It will explore how the development of new antibiotics can be stimulated and will also examine how best to encourage innovative thinking and research in order to change methods for treating infectious diseases. The review has already produced two reports. The first of these – Antimicrobial resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations – appeared in December. It quantifies the likely global economic burden of AMR between now and 2050. The second – Tackling a global health crisis: Initial steps – was published on 5 February. It describes steps the reivew believes could and should be taken now in the international effort to tackle AMR. Further reports are expected to be published during 2015. By the summer of 2016, the review will recommend a set of actions to be agreed on at an international level in order to deal with the challenge of AMR.

Sources and more information
Media releases
  • Superbug ‘could kill 80,000 people’ experts warn, nursingtimes, 14 April, 2015.
  • UK Government Warns Possible Death Of Thousands Due To Superbug Infection Outbreak, au.ibtimes, 07 April, 2015.
  • Superflu pandemic is biggest danger to UK apart from a terrorist attack – and could kill 80,000 people, The Independent, 06 April 2015.
  • British superbug outbreak ‘could kill 80,000’, The Telegraph, 05 April 2015.

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