‘The Quiet Pandemic,’ Warmer Planet Makes it More Difficult to Contain the Spread of Deadly Superbugs

A warming world is exacerbating the spread of drug-resistant superbugs, according to experts. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), often referred to as the “silent pandemic,” is a global health crisis where microorganisms develop the ability to resist drugs designed to kill them. The World Health Organization has listed AMR as one of the top 10 global threats to human health. The overuse and misuse of antimicrobials, such as antibiotics, are key drivers of AMR, and climate change is further worsening the crisis.

Higher temperatures contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant genes; extreme weather events disrupt health systems, and increased pollution fosters conditions for bugs to develop resistance. The UN Environment Program’s report, “Bracing for Superbugs,” highlights the role of environmental factors in AMR. With 2023 on track to be the warmest year ever recorded, concerns about AMR and its association with the climate crisis are growing.

Experts are urging international policymakers to recognize and address the link between climate change and AMR. The upcoming COP28 climate conference is seen as an opportunity to raise awareness and spur action. AMR is a significant global health challenge, with an estimated 1.3 million people dying annually due to resistant pathogens.

The economic and social costs and the potential increase in poverty, especially in low-income countries, make urgent action crucial. Policymakers are called upon to incentivize industry leaders to invest in the development of innovative antimicrobial drugs and to address the broken AMR diagnostics pipeline.