Medical science has advanced so far that we’ve long come to expect that just about any illness can be treated.
But drug-resistant infections are advancing even more rapidly and they’re overtaking the best that medical science has to offer.
In Canada, superbugs immune to first-line antibiotics account for 26% of treated infections and caused thousands of deaths last year, according to a new landmark report.
And the expert panel warns that’s likely to rise to 40% by 2050. That would exact a terrible toll in lost lives, dramatically increased healthcare costs and diminished social cohesion as fears over untreatable infections affect how people live and work.
Think of the 2003 SARS outbreak as the new normal.
That’s the scary picture detailed on Tuesday by the federally funded Council of Canadian Academies in a report titled “When Antibiotics Fail.”
It’s the most comprehensive look at this global threat with Canadian data. But it’s hardly the first such warning.
Scientists have been sounding the alarm for years. The United Nations has declared antibiotic-resistant superbugs to be one of the biggest threats to global health. Experts have said superbugs are a threat as serious as terrorism and national disasters.
And Brett Finlay, the microbiologist who chaired the expert panel, says the problem is on the same scale as climate change.
That is, of course, yet another global challenge that governments and societies at large struggle to tackle.
But, as Finlay says, “it’s time to do something now.”
This report calls for more careful use of antibiotics to preserve their effectiveness; research into possible new treatments; better infection prevention, including proper hand hygiene; and better data collection to identify emerging trends.
Those aren’t new solutions. But they require sustained effort and investment.
Hopefully this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada, which commissioned the report, is listening.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE TORONTO STAR