These are the words health researchers are using to describe a declaration passed Wednesday by the U.N. General Assembly aiming to slow down the spread of superbugs — bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.
“I think the declaration will have very strong implications,” says the World Health Organization’s Dr. Keiji Fukada. “What it will convey is that there’s recognition that we have a big problem and there’s a commitment to do something about it.”
Every year, more than 2 million Americans get sick with antibiotic-resistant infections and tens of thousands die as a result, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common diseases, like urinary tract infections and pneumonia, are becoming harder and harder to treat. And new superbugs are cropping up — even here in the U.S. — that are resistant to last-resort drugs.
Doctors have been warning about this problem for decades. But in the past year or so, another group of researchers has started taking interest in superbugs: economists. And they quickly realized the problem goes way beyond health.
“Antibiotic resistance has immense economic consequences and immense implications for food,” Fukada says.
A recent report from the U.K. government found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could cost the world $100 trillion dollars by 2050 if nothing is done about it. The World Bank predicts drug-resistant infections could damage the economy as much as — or even more than — the 2008 financial crisis. And annual global GDP could drop by 1 to 4 percent, the agency says.
On top of that, farmers around the world have come to rely on antibiotics to raise animals. The drugs make pigs, cows and chickens grow fatter more quickly — and keeps them healthy in densely packed quarters.
“If we lose that ability we begin to perhaps lose the ability to have adequate …