The Economic Consequences of Drug Resistance

LONDON – When British Prime Minister David Cameron asked me in July to lead an effort to find solutions to the growing global problem of antimicrobial resistance, my first question was: “What is that?” I soon learned that, as bacteria and parasites develop resistance to existing drugs, like antibiotics and antimalarial medications, the world is at risk of losing its battle against infectious diseases. So my next question was: “Why me? Don’t you need a scientist?”

It turns out that the problem of rising antimicrobial resistance is as much about economics as it is about science or medicine. Left unchecked, it will kill millions of people every year, and have serious adverse economic consequences for the world. For developing economies, including most of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey) countries, the risk is particularly large.

Recent research, by an independent review on antimicrobial resistance, which I chair, has modeled the phenomenon’s likely impact on the world economy. It suggests that if we fail to address antimicrobial resistance, the problem will grow worse.

By 2020, if we allow resistance to rise by 40%, global GDP will be 0.5% smaller than it otherwise would have been. By 2030, it will be 1.4% smaller. By 2050, the economic shortfall will reach 3%. The accumulated loss of global output over the next 35 years will total $100 trillion – more than one and a half times annual world GDP today.