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Antimicrobial resistance from environmental pollution is among the biggest emerging health threats, a UN Environment report said on Tuesday.
Launched during the United Nations Environment Assembly at its headquarters here, The Frontiers Report finds the role of the environment in the emergence and spread of resistance to antimicrobials is particularly concerning.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when a microorganism evolves to resist the effects of an antimicrobial agent.
Studies say about 700,000 people globally die of resistant infections every year because available antimicrobial drugs have become less effective at killing the resistant pathogens.
The report looks at six areas: the environmental dimension of antimicrobial resistance, nanomaterials, marine protected areas, sand and dust storms, off-grid solar solutions and environmental displacement.
"The warning here is truly frightening. We could be spurring the development of ferocious superbugs through ignorance and carelessness," UN Environment head Erik Solheim said while commenting on the report.
"Studies have already linked the misuse of antibiotics in humans and agriculture over the last several decades to increasing resistance, but the role of the environment and pollution has received little attention."
"This needs priority action right now, or else we run the risk of allowing resistance to occur through the back door, with potentially terrifying consequences," Solheim added.
According to the report, there is clear evidence that the release into the environment of antimicrobial compounds in effluents from households, hospitals and pharmaceutical facilities, and in agricultural run-off, combined with direct contact between natural bacterial communities and discharged resistant bacteria, is driving bacterial evolution and the emergence of more resistant strains.
Once consumed, most antibiotic drugs are excreted un-metabolised along with resistant bacteria, up to 80 per cent of consumed antibiotics.
This is a growing problem, since human antibiotic use increased 36 per cent this century, and antibiotic use in livestock is predicted to increase 67 per cent by 2030.
Additionally, up to 75 per cent of antibiotics used in aquaculture may be lost into the surrounding environment.
Wastewater treatment facilities cannot remove all antibiotics and resistant bacteria, and in fact may be hotspots for antimicrobial resistance, says the report.
There is evidence showing that multi-drug resistant bacteria are prevalent in marine water and sediment close to aquaculture, industrial and municipal discharges.
Solving the problem will mean tackling the use and disposal of antibiotic pharmaceuticals as well as the release of antimicrobial drugs, relevant contaminants and resistant bacteria into the environment, the report said.
(Vishal Gulati is in Nairobi at the invitation of United Nations Environment to cover its third annual session. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)