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Lynx Global warns; antimicrobial resistance and water: the risks and costs for economies and societies
September 5th, 2021

Antimicrobial resistance from water pollution has grown into a major global health concern: Antimicrobial drugs play an essential role in healthcare systems worldwide. Since their discovery, many infectious diseases that were once leading causes of death can now be treated straightforwardly. But they are losing effectiveness due to the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), with between 2.4 and 10 million additional deaths yearly by 2050.

In countries lacking universal wastewater treatment and access to clean water and sanitation, water is a primary vector in the spread of AMR and AMR diseases. Water access and pollution control can have a pivotal effect on AMR development and outcomes.

Microbes are tiny organisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. While most are not harmful, some can have adverse effects on human health. Antimicrobial drugs work by killing microbes or preventing multiplication. AMR causes such drugs to become ineffective. AMR can develop and multiply in the environment, including water – acting as a vector in AMR spread and development. Here, waterborne AMR refers to microbes and pathogens that have resistant genes and spread through water.

Environmental factors: The volume, temperature and quality of water into which AMR or AMR drivers are discharged can all affect the spread of AMR. Warmer, more concentrated bodies of water that contain additional pollutants are thought to be more amenable environments for AMR to develop. Economic and climatic trends are expected to increase environmental vulnerability factors. Water availability is expected to become more volatile due to increasing competing demands; water temperatures increase as climate change takes hold. Economic activity will equally increase wastewater flows.

Socio-economic factors: Socio-economic factors determine the impact of waterborne AMR on human populations.

WASH access: Limited WASH access can exacerbate antibiotic consumption, excretion, contact and further consumption cycle. Open defecation or use of pit latrines means pollutants enter waterways used by households for drinking and washing and by farmers for irrigation.

Density and formality of settlements: Dense settlements such as informal settlements, intensify consumption, exposure and spread through a larger population.

Trade and mobility: People and animals serve as reservoirs for AMR, meaning outbreaks of resistant disease can transmit globally through travel, trade and even wildlife migration patterns.

Other factors, including healthcare system performance and the availability of novel antimicrobial drugs can contribute to the spread of AMR.

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