Superbugs : The Silent Threat

By 2050 Superbugs will kill 10 million people and will wipe out $100 trillion of potential output worldwide annually and the US will have the majority shares of this tragedy. Superbugs, also known as drug-resistant microbes, are one of the most dangerous threats in the history of medicine. Superbugs emerge after coming into contact with an antibiotic. According to the US FDA “Globally, 70% of bacteria have now developed resistance to antibiotics, including to the drugs seen as our last line of defense.”

It all starts with antibiotics that humans and animals are administered throughout their lifespan. When animals and humans take antibiotics they develop a resistant bacteria in their gut. This bacteria when carried by a human can be contagious and deadly. When carried by an animal it unfortunately spreads through the food and crops we eat daily. The reason these types of bacteria are spreading is because there is no initiative in place to curtail it. 

The hidden cost associated with superbug development is very critical and can put our growth as a country and economy at a very high risk. Take the example of how a virus like SARS-CoV2 decimated our economy and has put millions of US citizens at a great risk medically and financially. To avoid another catastrophe the government needs to act before it’s too late. 

We propose three solutions to oversee this issue and help mitigate any of the consequences outlined above:

  • Tax-Breaks for Farms and Retail establishments to encourage, organic, pasture-raised antibiotic free farming practices and livestock

Today, the majority of all antibiotics produced are given to livestock – 70%  of all antibiotics in the US to be exact. The reason livestock are given antibiotics is due to the conditions in which the animals are living and the need to have animals reach maturity quicker to hasten slaughter for production. Animals put under these stressful environments routinely become sick and this sickness then spreads to other animals. The need for antibiotics is a must. As you can see, in these systems animals are more prone to disease as their immune systems are compromised, and require regular doses of antibiotics to remain healthy and thus affecting us as consumers when we are eating these products. The line of impact doesn’t stop there and in fact continues into our crops as well where animal feces are used as fertilizer for the growth and development of crops which the American consumer utilizes daily on their dinner plate. In order to combat this we can encourage practices that drastically reduce the antibiotic use which is the pasture farming, biodynamic enterprises taken up by many small scale farms around the country. These farms create a living eco-system by allowing all livestock and crops to feed off one another by giving the animals pastured land that regenerates as a result of the animals grazing on it. These farms produce livestock products without using any antibiotics and in fact sequester more carbon from the atmosphere resulting in a net negative compared to the factory farming practices that have raped the land and in turn created an industry where we as consumers will be suffering as a result.

  • Regulate and promote the appropriate use and disposal of quality medicines

Too often patients come to health care facilities with an illness in which medical professionals are overprescribing for routine illnesses that may not need antibiotic medication and then cause the bacteria that is developing to become a possible superbug. Many antibiotics are even sold over the counter in the US in the expectation to cure a rapid infection but creating a superbug instead. Also, there exists few antibiotics or non antibiotics methods to fight the new bacteria development in the human gut. Disastrously, the US has approved only 9 antibiotics in the last decade. In fact, no new classes on antibiotics have been developed since 1980.  However, our guts are still developing superbugs and we are dying of routine infection because we have run out of antibiotics and we have no initiative to produce any. This leads us to our final recommendation to increase R&D in the antibiotics field. 

  • Increase US Government spending in antibiotic R&D 

Pharmaceutical companies are prioritizing the development of more profitable medication such as the ones used to treat chronic diseases. The resources and spending put into antibiotics R&D will put pharmaceutical companies at a net negative in comparison to developing lucrative medicines. Antibiotics are made to be used as minimal as possible, this leaves the profits gained by selling them less than 10% of selling any other lucrative medication. The US government, as a result, should increase the incentive to boost the failing antibiotic market and field in order to help those who are mostly affected. For instance, the government can reward pharmaceutical companies who come up with new antibiotics by granting them an additional year on the patent of a lucrative drug. Also, increasing the spending on new antibiotics today might save us a lot of lives and money into the future. I think it’s time for the government to prioritize research in antibiotics before the death race and hundreds of trillions of dollars loss start. 

The greater the length of time humans are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the chance of them developing the resistant bacteria.  Today the US doesn’t have things under control and while the cost associated does not seem very large today, it’s certainly not decreasing throughout time. In fact, it is increasing. We need the Office of Science and Technology Policy to take the initiative to help those who are most affected by this: We The American People. We need better farming practices, rigidness and regulation in medicine prescriptions, and an increase in antibiotics R&D. This is a chain reaction, an illness that affects the American population will affect its productivity, its creativity, and prosperity. The cost is much bigger and way more crucial than the profit the pharmaceutical companies are after. 

RESOURCES:

  1. https://www.iccr.org/sites/default/files/resources_attachments/superbugs_and_super_risks_-_the_investment_case_for_action_briefing_november_2016.pdf
  2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-03/antibiotics-aren-t-profitable-enough-for-big-pharma-to-make-more
  3. https://www.microbiologyresearch.org/content/journal/micro/10.1099/mic.0.040618-0
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4240113/

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