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Antimicrobial Resistance 2020

The drug resistance pandemic is already here

Image: GARDP

Dr Manica Balasegaram

Executive Director, Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership

COVID-19 has demonstrated addressing a pandemic requires a global coordinated effort, and no country can do it alone.


Drug-resistant infections kill at least 700,000 people every year, a number projected to increase exponentially unless resistance is tackled. The consequences of not addressing this ‘silent’ pandemic of drug resistance could result in an unpredictable future, in which we are unable to safely perform operations and chemotherapy, or treat common infections like pneumonia, urinary tract infections and infections in newborns.

There is an opportunity to avert this catastrophe through strong leadership, collaboration and investment in measures to fight drug resistance. But we must act now.

The cost of failing to adequately prepare for COVID-19 is already measured in over one million lives lost and trillions of dollars in economic damage. A similar situation could occur for the pandemic of drug-resistant infections.

Learning lessons from COVID-19

As outlined in a recent report by the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP), the coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated that preparing for pandemics requires a globally joined-up effort, and no country can do it alone. It has also shown that our ability to control infections must ensure affordable access to prevention, testing and treatment, for everyone.

The One Health concept is particularly critical to tackling the pandemic of drug-resistant infections, which connects people’s health to the wellbeing of animals and our environment.

A One Health approach is essential in designing and rolling out programmes, policies and research that bring together disparate sectors. Drug-resistant infections move silently within populations and between animals, humans and environments; they know no boundaries, and neither should our responses.

Governments must also provide sustained investments into new ways of tackling drug-resistant infections, including treatments, diagnostic tests and vaccines.

Increasing investment to find new solutions

Unlike novel viruses, we already know the drug-resistant microbes we are up against and what it will take to combat them. A critical first step requires that information about resistance prevalence is routinely fed into global surveillance systems.

Greater alignment of groups working on infection prevention and control, as well as factors influencing resistance in humans, animals and the environment, is equally essential. Governments must also provide sustained investments into new ways of tackling drug-resistant infections, including treatments, diagnostic tests and vaccines.

COVID-19 has driven home that our health and well-being are inextricably linked, regardless of where we live. We must seize this opportunity to radically step up our response to drug-resistant infections. We need to prepare ourselves to handle the insidious nature of this pandemic, where the true extent of the damage too often remains invisible.

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