When Antibiotics Fail

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is an independent, not-for-profit organization supporting independent research based on expert assessments rooted in scientific evidence, conducted by multidisciplinary panels of experts from across Canada and the world.

The Expert Panel on the Potential Socio-Economic Impacts of Antimicrobial Resistance in Canada was recently formed under the guidance of the Scientific Advisory Committee, Board of Directors, and founding Academies to investigate the global rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and determine the extent of its predicted harmful disruptions to society. On the 13-member Panel is former Director of SPPH and current Interim Director of the BCCDC, David Patrick.

In a message from Expert Panel Chair B. Brett Finlay, the UBC faculty member warns that if actions are not taken to address the increase of AMR, Canada will undergo detrimental changes in the next few decades:

“The economy will shrink, the healthcare system will be less sustainable, and social inequality will further increase…”

The report explains that effective antimicrobials can be extremely valuable in medical, veterinary, and agricultural settings to prevent and treat bacterial infections in humans, animals, and crops. However, with their use comes the evolution of disease-causing bacteria that have become increasingly resistant to these antimicrobials, leading many antibiotics to become ineffective.

According to the Panel’s economic model, first-line antimicrobials contributed to saving at least 17,000 lives and prevented 2.6 million hospital days in 2018, all while generating $6.1 billion in economic activity in Canada. According to the report, decreasing numbers of effective antimicrobials puts this contribution at great risk. If rates of AMR remain constant, the Canadian economy will be up to 0.7% smaller in 2050, and if rates reach 40% as the panelists predict, Canada’s cumulative GDP would decline around $388 billion.

Declining antibiotic effectiveness will also lead to increased pressure on an already strained healthcare system. The Panel found that lengthier hospital stays and courses of treatment and other expenses associated with AMR cost the Canadian healthcare system about $1.4 billion las year.

“If resistance rates continue to rise, they will lead to substantial financial implications for Canada’s healthcare system, fundamentally changing the delivery of most services and eroding public trust.”

The report estimates that resistant bacterial infections were responsible for over 14,000 deaths in Canada in 2018, with around 26% of bacterial infections currently resistant to first-line antimicrobials. Those with weaker immune systems and/or pre-existing medical conditions are most susceptible to AMR exposure and developing resistant infections. The Panel asserts that action must be taken to protect vulnerable populations, including socially marginalized groups, those living in poverty, the homeless, and people with substance use disorders.

Thanks to the Expert Panel and their diverse academic and professional backgrounds, a wealth of new research has emerged on how to measure and combat the negative effects of AMR.

The report outlines a complete re-evaluation of healthcare that centers around minimizing AMR impacts by reducing the rate of infections, so that the use of antimicrobials is less necessary. To accomplish this, the Panel suggests implementing surveillance, infection prevention and control, research and innovation, and stewardship initiatives to prevent the spread of infection and improve non-antimicrobial treatments.

For more information, view the official report, and join the CCA livestream on November 14th, at 3:30pm EST (12:30 PST).