1.27 million deaths worldwide each year, more than half of which are preventable – Libération

1.27 million deaths worldwide each year, more than half of which are preventable – Libération
1.27 million deaths worldwide each year, more than half of which are preventable – Libération

The medical journal “The Lancet” launches this Thursday, May 23, an appeal to fight against infections by pathogens resistant to antimicrobial drugs.

What to do with bacteria becoming resistant to known antibiotics? This scenario of antibiotic resistance is not fictional, it is indeed happening. Of the 7 million annual deaths caused worldwide by bacteria, 1.27 million are directly attributable to pathogens that have learned to bypass antibiotics, according to a report published by the medical journal The Lancet this Thursday, May 23 in the evening. But a large part could be avoided by taking hygiene and vaccination measures.

If “antibiotic resistance is currently under control in our countries and particularly in France”, emphasizes to Release Philippe Glaser, specialist in this field at the Institut Pasteur, “the situation is deteriorating in many other countries”, he alerts. The trend is strong. For example, the number of blood infections due to Staphylococcus aureus in Europe increased by 51% between 2007 and 2015. More recently, still on the Old Continent, the number of hospitalizations in critical care for a blood infection caused by another resistant bacteria, Acinetobacter, increased by 144% between 2018-2019 and 2020-2021.

According to data published in The Lancet, Babies are most at risk, with a third of deaths caused by infections. Between 2018 and 2020, according to a study carried out in eleven countries on all continents, 18% of newborns with generalized infection (sepsis) did not survive despite treatment with antibiotics. Elderly people and patients with chronic illnesses are also at greater risk of contracting this type of pathogen. Antibiotic resistance increases the risk of nosocomial infections (contracted in a hospital environment) and represents a danger for patients undergoing chemotherapy or organ donation recipients.

“Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise – accelerated by the inappropriate use of antibiotics during the Covid pandemic – threatening the backbone of modern medicine and already leading to deaths and illnesses that could have been prevented in the past” , regrets one of the co-authors of the article series, Professor Iruka Okeke of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in a press release.

Three goals by 2030

In order to limit the appearance of resistant bacteria, his colleagues set three specific objectives for 2030: reduce mortality caused by these pathogens by 10%, reduce the use of antibiotics in humans by 20% and by 30% with the animals.

Because antibiotic resistance is not inevitable. According to the modeling proposed in The Lancet, 750,000 of these deaths could be avoided with the generalization of simple measures. For the authors of this research, the best strategy against these infections remains prevention: improving hygiene and sterilization within health establishments would save 337,000 lives per year. Universal access to drinking water and sanitation would prevent 247,800 deaths per year. Finally, wider use of certain vaccines against pneumococci, meningitis or respiratory syncytial virus could protect 181,500 more people.

Results which, according to the co-author of the articles, Yewande Alimi, specialist on the issue at the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “show that public health actions to prevent infections should be prioritized in the strategy to combat antimicrobial resistance.” Scientists are now mobilizing to influence the next United Nations general assembly scheduled for September, which must tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance.

That said, investments around the research of new antibiotics must also be reinvented. The pharmaceutical system’s sole quest for profit makes new antibiotics inaccessible in many countries. Public-private partnerships from the research phase could help overcome this difficulty. Princeton professor and co-author of the study, Ramanan Laxminarayan, recalls that “if access and affordability are not guaranteed, the large number of deaths from resistant bacterial infections will continue unabated.”

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