Antimicrobial-resistant diseases are a big deal. Drug-resistent superbugs threaten to kill millions of people every year.
This isn’t a future hypothetical, either. It’s already started. The current rate in the US is about 2 million people infected, and 23,000 deaths per year from drug-resistent forms of disease, according to the CDC.
And this isn’t just a medical or scientific issue. It’s also an economic issue. Jim O’Neill, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management who now works for the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, has been looking into this question. He wrote about how it’s going at Project Syndicate earlier in the month:
By 2020, if we allow resistance to rise by 40%, global GDP will be 0.5% smaller than it otherwise would have been. By 2030, it will be 1.4% smaller. By 2050, the economic shortfall will reach 3%. The accumulated loss of global output over the next 35 years will total $US100 trillion — more than one and a half times annual world GDP today.
The impact will be worst in dense emerging market economies like India, China, and Nigeria. This calculation, he notes, is pretty narrow, and doesn’t include a lot of the second order effects, like the living standard decreases from a world without effective antibiotics. It also doesn’t take into account surgeries and other medical procedures that rely on antibiotics in a infection-prevention capacity.
“The broad-brush research we conducted shows that such treatments — many of which would not be possible without effective antibiotics — add around 4% of benefit in terms of GDP,” O’Neill writes.
The solutions to this, he says, are varied, and research is ongoing. There are the little things: not relying on antibiotics for minor things, washing our hands more often, etc. But then there are the big things: This is a looming, but still pretty far off problem. There’s currently not a huge economic incentive for pharmaceutical companies to invest in the research to stop, or stem the tide, of this trend.