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Drug-resistant superbugs on the rise in the UK

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Global deaths from antimicrobial resistance is expected to increase to 10 million a year by 2030

A lack of antibiotic regulation in developing countries has resulted in an increase of drug-resistant superbugs in the UK, according to health experts.

Analysis from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), from Washington DC, found that while antibiotics are being consumed less in the UK, global use has increased by 65%.

These findings come after Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, described the current situation as sleepwalking towards a ‘post-antibiotic apocalypse’.

Researchers found that the jump in resistance was due to middle income countries, such as India, China and Turkey, whose consumption of antibiotics is up by 114%.

‘As with climate change, there may be an unknown tipping point, and this could herald a future without effective antibiotics,’ said the authors of the report.

‘Even in the absence of tipping points, the decline of antibiotic effectiveness represents a major threat to human health.’

Global deaths from antimicrobial resistance is expected to increase to 10 million a year by 2030, which is one person every 3 seconds.

The government’s estimated figure of 5000 deaths from superbugs a year in the UK has been described as ‘guesswork’ by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, who claim this number is much higher – there are 12,000 deaths a year from drug-resistant sepsis alone.

The authors of the report state that economic growth in developing countries is driving this dangerous trend, and multinational pharmaceutical companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline, have exacerbated the crisis by selling antibiotic products to these countries that were not approved elsewhere.

Through travel and tourism, resistant superbugs are being brought into the UK from abroad leaving many Britons suffering from resistant infections.

Ann Struthers, an 18-year-old student, died in 2013 after developing a sore throat while on holiday in Scotland. When returning home to the Isle of Man, the infection developed into pneumonia and she was given 11 different antibiotics which failed to work. Ann contracted sepsis and died from multiple organ failure 11 days after being admitted to hospital.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the CDDEP said that pharmaceutical companies must take responsibility for the products they are selling:

‘If pharmaceutical companies sell antibiotics as FDCs [fixed-dose combinations] where there is no clinical evidence for them and where there is likely to be antibiotic resistance there is no justification for it. It's no longer sufficient for companies to say it's okay because someone wants to buy my drug,’ he told the Telegraph, who have conducted their own investigations into this crisis.

Strategies that tackle antimicrobial resistance in the UK alone are not enough when outside countries continue to use unapproved medication – without multinational pharmaceuticals leading the way, superbugs will continue to rise across the globe.

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