Tropical medicine specialist Nick Day has warned anew that growing antibiotic resistance in Asia--mixed with the re-emergence of stubborn infectious diseases--greatly raises the risks of unpredictable outbreaks that could reach epidemic proportions.
In an article published by Nikkei Asian Review, Day--a professor of tropical medicine at Oxford University and a visiting professor at Mahidol University in Bangkok--said that in Asia, the "very dangerous problem of epidemics--or worse, pandemics--of 'emerging infectious diseases' such as the Ebola and Zika viruses," are high on lists by the World Health Organization and most governments.
China and India are at ground zero in Asia on overprescribing antibiotics with efforts underway by governments in both countries to curb the practices. As well, former Goldman Sachs senior executive Jim O'Neill has led a high-profile push to curb overuse of antibiotics--a leading cause of antimicrobial resistance that has brought attention to the issue.
For Day, the issue of drug resistance remains the most urgent problem in the region.
"In Asia and elsewhere, we are faced with infections that we simply cannot treat, as they are resistant to all known antimicrobial drugs. The human and economic consequences of drug-resistant infections are enormous," he wrote in the Nikkei article.
"Without concerted and effective action, global deaths from drug-resistant tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and certain bacterial infections are predicted to reach 10 million a year by 2050--more than the deaths from all forms of cancer worldwide--and to cumulatively wipe off $100 trillion from global gross domestic product, according to a report authored by Jim O'Neill, an influential economist, commissioned by the U.K. government."
Among steps taken so far, India has changed the packaging on certain classes of drugs to crack down on the overprescription of antibiotics.
But Day said that even though the "obvious solution is to develop new antimicrobial drugs," the commercial pharmaceutical development model needs to be reviewed and plans drawn up to "pay drug companies to develop new antimicrobials."
"This will be expensive, as it costs at least a billion dollars to develop a new drug to the point where it can be made available to patients,” he said.
"Only governments and the largest biomedical charitable foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Britain's Wellcome Trust, are in a position to contribute."
In a separate article, Nikkei said that Asian government should create a regional clinical testing center to help combat infectious diseases.