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'Millions will die' from antimicrobial resistance unless we act now

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Ten million people around the world will die each year by 2050 if more is not done to tackle the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, Jim O'Neill, commercial secretary to the treasury, has said.

Speaking at WIRED Health, O'Neill said the rise in resistance needs to be "embraced by policy makers around the world".

If it isn't then the number of people dying from antimicrobial resistance (AMR) will increase dramatically.

"700,000 people around the world are dying from AMR today, if we don't do something about it in another 35 years that could be ten million," O'Neill warned.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called AMR a "threat" to preventing and treating a growing number of infections that are caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi. "It is an increasingly serious threat to global public health," the WHO explains in its guidelines.

In July 2014 O'Neill was tasked by prime minister David Cameron to lead the independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

"If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine," Cameron said at the time.

O'Neill's review is due to publish its final report in three weeks time. Its aim will be to change global attitudes and policies to AMR.

The report will outline the estimate cost of creating a "global system of surveillance for drug resistance" and put forward a series of recommendations for tackling the problem.

Included in the final report from O'Neill's team will be suggestions about how the response to AMR should be funded. He said this could include getting funding from taxes, financial institutions, or even obligations on pharmaceutical companies.

O'Neill also said that technology, such as mobile phones, can help with diagnosis. "We live in a world where phones dominate our lives," he said, while pulling his phone from his pocket. "Do you ever get one of your doctors getting one of these out and saying you need to take an antibiotic?"

He continued that those in healthcare need to develop "state-of-the-art" diagnostic systems, a kind of "Google for doctors".

According to the former Goldman Sach's chief economist, the final report from his review will include a "very aggressive proposal for Western countries about how that should be accelerated."

"We need to continue improving our monitoring and understanding of the infectious disease burden globally," a publication released by O'Neill's team in March argued.

It added that "huge gaps" must be addressed if the world is going to be able to develop reliable information and resources to tackle the development and spread of drug resistance. The final report will be published in May.

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