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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is rising worldwide. It is a natural phenomenon in which microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites become resistant to medicines used to combat them. However, this natural process has been exacerbated by the use of antimicrobials in humans and animals.

Globally, AMR causes an estimated 700,000 deaths a year. This is projected to rise to 10 million by 2050. It also has the potential to invalidate many of the advances in modern medicine, including increasing the risk of surgery and reversing gains in the fight against conditions such as tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.

However, while AMR is spreading, the demand for antimicrobial treatments is rising for use by both humans and animals. Recent academic research suggests the lowest-forecast increase in global human antibiotic consumption by 2030 is over 30%, while if it rises at current rates it would grow by 200% in the same period. In animals, the use of antibiotics is expected to rise by 67% by 2030, driven largely by growing meat consumption. This is all likely to increase the spread of AMR.

In addition, the economic impact of AMR is likely to be considerable. The World Bank has calculated that the cumulative cost of inaction could cost the global economy US$3.4 trillion a year by 2030. This would disproportionately affect lower-income countries.

To address the risks posed by AMR, in 2015 members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) signed up to the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance. The following year, the United Nations (UN) agreed to establish an Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, which has since reported to the Secretary General with recommendations to strengthen efforts against the spread of AMR.

Additional efforts have been made at EU level and by the UK Government. In recent months, the UK Government has announced extra funding to tackle AMR both at home and abroad and has appointed Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer for England and the Government’s Chief Medical Adviser, as a UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance.

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