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Warning: Superbugs on Track to Kill More People Than Cancer

UK Chancellor's statement follows World Health Organization warning of 'alarming rise' in antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, brown) surrounded by cellular debris. (Credit: NIAID)

Antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" are on track to kill more people than cancer, the UK's chief financial minister will warn Thursday.

By 2050, Chancellor George Osborne will say, antimicrobial resistance could claim the lives of as many as 10 million people a year globally unless global action is taken. By comparison, the World Heath Organization (WHO) estimates that 8.2 million people die each year from cancer.

The message that Osborne is set to deliver in Washington, D.C. to delegates at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting will focus on the economic costs of the problem as well.

"My message here at the IMF meeting in Washington is that we need the world's governments and industry leaders to work together in radical new ways," a press statement reports him as saying.

"We have to dramatically shift incentives for pharmaceutical companies and others to create a long-term solution to this problem, with new rewards, funded globally, that support the development of new antibiotics and ensure access to antibiotics in the developing world.

"To achieve a long-term solution we also need better rapid diagnostics that will cut the vast amounts of unnecessary antibiotic use," his statement reads.

Food safety and environmental watchdogs in the U.S. have pointed to such use as part of the problems with industrial agriculture

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, for example, said in 2013, "Right now, 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used for industrial agriculture, and most of these drugs are routinely fed to animals to make them grow faster and compensate for filthy conditions. This is done to help the meat industry execute on its highly consolidated business model for profit. And the American public pays through antibiotic-resistant infections."

The World Heath Organization has previously warned of the "alarming rise" of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, with Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security, saying last year, "This is the single greatest challenge in infectious diseases today." 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr. Tom Frieden, meanwhile, said in 2014 , "Antimicrobial resistance is a big problem and it's getting worse."

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