ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi

The rise of drug-resistant superbugs presents a grave threat to global health that could surpass the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. These superbugs, or bacteria and other pathogens that have developed resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs, are proliferating at an alarming rate.

Superbugs vs Covid-19: Comparing scale and severity of global health threats, preparing for next health catastrophe (Photo by Tech Explorist)

Comparative Impact: Superbugs vs Covid-19

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder and Director at Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, revealed that this phenomenon is fueled by several factors, including the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human medicine, agriculture and animal husbandry. The health expert highlighted all you need to know about the growing danger –

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1. Scale and Severity:

  • Covid-19: The Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant global disruption, with millions of deaths and widespread economic and social upheaval. However, the world has seen the development of effective vaccines and treatments within a relatively short period.
  • Superbugs: In contrast, superbugs threaten a broader and more sustained impact. Once bacteria become resistant, infections that were previously treatable can become deadly. The medical community is struggling to keep pace with the rapid evolution of these pathogens, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is worryingly sparse.

2. Healthcare Impact:

  • Covid-19: Intensive care units (ICUs) were overwhelmed, but non-Covid-related healthcare continued with modifications.
  • Superbugs: Drug-resistant infections complicate routine surgeries, cancer treatments, and care for chronic diseases, potentially making minor infections fatal and undermining the entire healthcare system.

3. Economic Burden:

  • Covid-19: Short-term economic shocks have been profound, but recovery efforts are underway.
  • Superbugs: Long-term economic impact is significant due to prolonged illness, increased healthcare costs, and reduced productivity. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could cost the global economy $100 trillion.

Preventative Measures and Global Response

Talking about how to prepare for the next health catastrophe, Dr Shuchin Bajaj suggested –

  1. Surveillance and Stewardship: Strengthening global surveillance systems to monitor and respond to AMR patterns is crucial. Implementing robust antibiotic stewardship programs can help ensure antibiotics are used responsibly.
  2. Research and Development: Investing in research to develop new antibiotics, alternative therapies, and rapid diagnostic tools is essential. Encouraging pharmaceutical innovation through public-private partnerships can accelerate progress.
  3. Public Awareness and Education: Educating the public and healthcare professionals about the dangers of antibiotic misuse and promoting best practices can help curb the rise of resistance.
  4. Regulatory Measures: Governments must enforce stricter regulations on antibiotic use in agriculture and veterinary practices to reduce unnecessary exposure.

Dr Shuchin Bajaj concluded, “The rise of drug-resistant superbugs is a looming crisis that demands immediate and sustained global action. While the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of the fragility of our global health systems, the threat posed by superbugs could be far more insidious and enduring. It is imperative to adopt a multi-faceted approach, combining scientific innovation, policy intervention and public engagement to mitigate this threat and safeguard future generations.”