As the world grapples with COVID-19, another pandemic has gone mostly unnoticed.
Each year, 700,000 people — including as many as 160,000 Americans — lose their lives to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. My 18-month-old son Simon was one of them. He woke up one morning screaming in agony. Within 24 hours, he died from a drug-resistant infection that doctors were powerless to stop. Had effective antibiotics been available, he would still be with us today.
Jump-starting research into these medicines — whether through government grants or private initiatives — needs to be a national priority. Without such efforts, millions of families will suffer the horrible loss ours did. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the phenomenon by which bacteria and fungi evolve and become immune to drugs, could kill 10 million people annually by 2050.
Worryingly, the antibiotics needed to avoid this crisis aren’t being developed.
While progress in everything from cancer treatments to HIV medications has taken off in recent years, work on new antibiotics has essentially stalled. The FDA approved only nine new antibiotics between 2000 and 2018. That’s down from 63 between 1980 and 2000.
This lack of new antibiotics has allowed the kinds of drug-resistant bacteria that took Simon’s life to evolve and multiply, mostly unchecked. Years of antibiotic overuse have exacerbated this problem. Every time someone takes an antibiotic that they don’t need, it gives bacteria a chance to develop resistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.
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