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BLOG: Stop the bug that brings societies down

Antimicrobial resistance hardly seems related to a sustainable world as expressed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal. Yet, a real threat to human welfare is looming.

Each year 700.000 people die from resistant infections. The projection is that by 2050 10 million fatalities will be recorded. We need to stop the occurrence and spread of resistant infections. Solutions must be found, and urgently. How else can we escape to what seems a slow but inexorable future where common infections become fatal? Do we sit still and allow undermining the medical progresses achieved in the last century through life-saving surgical procedures and interventions such as cancer treatments and organ transplantation? Knowing that the impact of AntiMicrobial Resistance (AMR) goes far beyond the health sector strongly adds to the urgency.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to end poverty, protect our planet and ensure prosperity for all. Targets contained in SDG 3,  Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, such as reducing maternal mortality and bringing down premature deaths from non-communicable diseases cannot be achieved without effective antibiotics.

But AMR also affects the achievement of other SDGs in multiple ways. We have made a non-restricting list of possible negative impacts:

SDG 1 - No Poverty: People living in poverty are the ones most heavily exposed to the burden of AMR. Treatments of resistant infections are indeed more expensive and last longer

SDG 2 - Zero Hunger: The goal of increased productivity by 2030 needs to go hand in hand with sustainable production and responsible use of antibiotics in animals, whose inappropriate use contribute to resistance in humans.

SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation: Waste products from hospitals, antibiotic manufacturing plants, and agriculture contribute to increased amounts of antibiotic residues and resistant bacteria in aquatic ecosystems.

SDG8 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth: Infections resistant to antibiotics are more expensive to treat and result in longer hospital stay and loss of productivity.

SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production: Antibiotics should be recognized as an important non-renewable resource. Access to them is part of the human right to health.  But it is also important to foster research and development of new antibiotics, for too long time neglected.  

Now that the EU is working on a new action plan on AMR (the first draft is expected for mid-2017), it is the right moment for citizens and stakeholders to have their say on future EU actions needed in this area. This can be done through the public consultation recently launched by the European Commission.

Although the EU has the capability to make a real change, all stakeholders are needed to bring eradication of AMR near. So I would like to urge all stakeholders to do so. Via the consultation, stakeholders have the opportunity to shape the priorities and content of the new EU multisectorial (One Health) approach and make sure it brings concrete solutions in the fight against this danger, ultimately contributing also to the attainment of a more fair and sustainable world.

Christine Lagarde said that “Tackling climate change is a collective endeavor. It means collective accountability and it is not too late”. With the strong links between  AMR and the sustainable development the mantra is the same: We must act now!

Silvia Bottaro, European Affairs Advisor, Life Sciences & Health

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Jasovský, D., Littmann, J., Zorzet, A., & Cars, O. (2016). Antimicrobial resistance—a threat to the world’s sustainable development. Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, 121(3), 159–164.

Combating Antimicrobial resistance to achieve SDGs goals, WHO, 2016.