Some 10 million people could die annually from infections by drug-resistant "superbugs" by 2050 unless the world takes decisive action to cut the use of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs, British health experts said on Thursday.
"Even today, 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year," the experts said in a government-funded review of antimicrobial resistance.
"Antibiotics are a special category of antimicrobial drugs that underpin modern medicine as we know it: if they lose their effectiveness, key medical procedures ... could become too dangerous to perform," they said, warning that low and middle-income countries would suffer the biggest impact.
"I find it incredible that doctors must still prescribe antibiotics based only on their immediate assessment of a patient's symptoms, just like they used to when antibiotics first entered common use in the 1950s," said economist Jim O'Neill, the review's lead author.
The review makes 10 recommendations to "galvanise action, at the individual, organisational, state level and global level," urging everyone to "play their part in only taking antibiotics when they are needed and completing their course."
It urges governments to launch a "massive global public awareness campaign" and "build a global coalition for real action" via the United Nations and the G20 group of the world's largest economies.
Other recommendations include improving hygiene and preventing the spread of infections, reducing the use of antimicrobials in agriculture, improving global surveillance of drug resistance, and promoting the use of vaccines and other alternatives to antimicrobials.