By: Tehreem Hussain
Climate change and antimicrobial resistance are intrinsically intertwined; this is one of the primary ways that rising temperatures are disrupting human health systems across the globe. The two main ways through which climate change exacerbates antimicrobial resistance are by creating greater areas of overlap between zoonotic species and humans, along with the increased use of antibiotics caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in larger amounts of contaminants saturating natural water bodies.
Even without the realities of climate change, antimicrobial resistance is a large public health concern; in the European Union alone, 670,000 infections have been reported annually and these infections have resulted in 33,000 deaths. However, with the environmental impact of climate change intersecting with global human health systems, the problem becomes much more dire.
In 2023, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) published a report outlining how climate change is linked to the transmission and proliferation of antimicrobial resistance. The report also highlighted the fact that pharmaceutical manufacturing, food production systems, and the healthcare delivery industry all contribute heavily to the rise of antimicrobial resistance.
Like other climate change related issues, antimicrobial resistance does not target communities and countries uniformly. According to a study published in The Lancet in 2022, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) had 1.5 times higher fatality rate in relation to antimicrobial resistance in relation to their high-income country counterparts. Given that the United States Agency for International Development estimated that the effects of climate change will disproportionately impact human health in LMICs, it can be reasonably deduced that this trend will translate to antimicrobial resistance rates as well.
Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Medicine told CNN in a statement following the publishing of the UNEP report that, “Climate change, pollution, changes in our weather patterns, more rainfall, more closely packed, dense cities and urban areas – all of this facilitates the spread of antibiotic resistance. And I am certain that this is only going to go up with time unless we take relatively drastic measures to curb this.”
Rising temperatures due to climate change are challenging human inhabitation in more than one way. With antimicrobial resistance on the rise, human health systems will experience growing precarity as the climate crisis worsens. However, according to a World Bank proposal, an investment of $9 billion in LMICs to combat antimicrobial resistance will alleviate the burden faced by the healthcare systems in affected nations and preserve the efficacy of modern medicine in combating infections.