Antibiotic misuse to drive 10 mn AMR-related deaths yearly by 2050: WHO

Factors include using antibiotics for viral symptoms, using them without a prescription, and not completing courses

Representative image of antibiotics held in hand (Photo: DW)
Representative image of antibiotics held in hand (Photo: DW)


The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the misuse of antibiotics which could result in up to 10 million deaths a year by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Emerging as a silent pandemic, the global health body recognises AMR as 1 of the 10 major global public health threats, with an estimated 5 million deaths annually associated with bacterial AMR worldwide.

The WHO-Europe conducted a survey involving 8,221 participants from 14 countries, mostly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The most common reasons for taking the antibiotics included colds (24 per cent), flu-like symptoms (16 per cent), sore throat (21 per cent) and cough (18 per cent) -- symptoms often caused by viruses against which antibiotics are not effective.

The findings published in the journal Frontiers also showed that medical practitioners prescribed or directly administered the majority (67 per cent) of the antibiotics.

Across the 14 countries, a third (33 per cent) of respondents consumed antibiotics without a medical prescription.

In some countries, more than 40 per cent of the antibiotics were obtained without medical advice.

The survey also highlighted lack of awareness among common people -- nearly half (43 per cent) incorrectly said antibiotics are effective against viruses (they are not).

“This research clearly shows the need for education and awareness raising,” said Robb Butler, Director of WHO/Europe’s Division of Communicable Diseases, Environment and Health, in a statement.

“Conserving the effectiveness of antimicrobial medicines requires interventions at many levels, such as timely vaccination, improved hygiene and reduction of inappropriate prescribing,” added Danilo Lo Fo Wong, Regional Adviser for the Control of Antimicrobial Resistance.

As global efforts to control AMR intensify, social and behavioural sciences are emerging as crucial yet underutilised areas of knowledge and expertise that can guide interventions in AMR control, radically increasing impact.

“Other drivers of AMR have their roots in the social and cultural norms learned in communities, for example, not completing a course of antibiotics in order to save some for the next time you fall ill or sharing with a sick relative or neighbour".

"This learned behaviour can take time to change, and it’s imperative that behavioural and cultural insights are used to the full when planning interventions,” Butler said.

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