Experts say that in order to reduce the threat of superbugs, the world must cut down on pollution. 

Limiting the pollution created by pharmaceuticals, agricultural and healthcare sectors is essential to reduce the emergence, transmission, and spread of superbugs - strains of bacteria that have become resistant to every known antibiotic - and other instances of antimicrobial resistance, known as AMR, according to a report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

The report says that up to 10 million deaths could occur annually by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance, on par with the 2020 rate of global deaths from cancer.

Experts have found that pollution in key sectors of the economy contributes to the development, transmission and spread of AMR. AMR’s economic toll is predicted to result in a GDP drop of at least US$3.4 trillion annually by 2030, pushing 24 million more people into extreme poverty.

The report, Bracing for Superbugs: strengthening environmental action in the OneHealth response to antimicrobial resistance was launched at the Sixth Meeting of the Global Leaders Group on AMR, held in Barbados.

It says that to prevent and reduce such pollutants it is crucial to:

  • create robust and coherent national level governance, planning, regulatory and legal frameworks, and establish coordination and collaboration mechanisms

  • increase global efforts to improve integrated water management and promote water, sanitation and hygiene to limit the development and spread of AMR in the environment as well as to reduce infections and need for antimicrobials

  • increase integration of environmental considerations into AMR National Action Plans, and AMR into environmental-related plans such as national chemical pollution and waste management programmes, national biodiversity and climate change planning

  • establish international standards for what constitutes a good microbiological indicator of AMR from environmental samples, which can be used to guide risk reduction decisions and create effective incentives to follow such guidance

  • explore options to redirect investments, to establish new and innovative financial incentives and schemes, and to make the investment case to guarantee sustainable funding, including the allocation of sufficient domestic resources to tackling AMR.

  • environmental monitoring and surveillance and further research prioritisation to provide more data and evidence and better target interventions