Bacterial antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—which occurs when changes in bacteria cause the drugs used to treat infections to become less effective—has emerged as one of the leading public health threats of the 21st century. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by the UK Government, argued that AMR could kill 10 million people per year by 2050.1, 2 Although these forecasts have been criticised by some,3, 4 WHO and numerous other groups and researchers agree that the spread of AMR is an urgent issue requiring a global, coordinated action plan to address.5, 6, 7, 8 Information about the current magnitude of the burden of bacterial AMR, trends in different parts of the world, and the leading pathogen–drug combinations contributing to bacterial AMR burden is crucial. If left unchecked, the spread of AMR could make many bacterial pathogens much more lethal in the future than they are today.
One major challenge to tackling AMR is understanding the true burden of resistance, particularly in locations where surveillance is minimal and data are sparse. Extensive literature exists estimating the effects of AMR on incidence, deaths, hospital length of stay, and health-care costs for select pathogen–drug combinations in specific locations,1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 but, to our knowledge, no comprehensive estimates covering all locations and a broad range of pathogens and pathogen–drug combinations have ever been published. For instance, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a 2019 report on AMR infections and deaths in the USA for 18 AMR threats using surveillance data,6 while Cassini and colleagues10 estimated the burden of eight bacterial pathogens and 16 pathogen–drug combinations in the EU and European Economic Area for 2007–15. Likewise, Lim and colleagues estimated the burden of multidrug resistance in six bacterial pathogens in Thailand in 2010,11 and Temkin and colleagues estimated the incidence of Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae resistant to third-generation cephalosporins and carbapenems in 193 countries in 2014.12
Although these publications are important contributions to the body of work on AMR, they are insufficient to understand the global burden of AMR and identify and target the highest priority pathogens in different locations. Additionally, existing studies have generally considered only one measure of AMR burden.13 Because we do not know the extent to which drug-resistant infections would be replaced by susceptible infections or by no infection in a scenario in which all drug resistance was eliminated, it is important to quantify the burden on the basis of both these counterfactual scenarios.
In this study, we present the first global estimates of the burden of bacterial AMR covering an extensive set of pathogens and pathogen–drug combinations using consistent methods for both counterfactual scenarios.
We developed an approach for estimating the burden of AMR that makes use of all available data and builds on death and incidence estimates for different underlying conditions from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2019, which provides age-specific and sex-specific estimates of disease burden for 369 diseases and injuries in 204 countries and territories in 1990–2019.14 Our approach can be divided into ten estimation steps that occur within five broad modelling components (a flowchart of the estimation steps is given in the appendix p 123). First, we obtained data from multiple data sources, including from published studies (eg, microbiology data, inpatient data, data on multiple causes of death, and pharmaceutical sales data) and directly from collaborators on the Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance project,15 members of the GBD Collaborator Network, and other data providers.
We estimated the disease burdens associated with and attributable to AMR for 12 major infectious syndromes (lower respiratory infections and all related infections in the thorax; bloodstream infections; peritoneal and intra-abdominal infections; meningitis and other bacterial CNS infections; typhoid, paratyphoid, and invasive non-typhoidal Salmonella spp; urinary tract infections and pyelonephritis; diarrhoea; tuberculosis [not including tuberculosis associated with HIV]; bacterial infections of the skin and subcutaneous systems; endocarditis and other cardiac infections; infections of bones, joints, and related organs; and gonorrhoea and chlamydia) and one residual category, 23 bacterial pathogens, 18 drug categories or combinations of drugs for which there is resistance, and 88 pathogen–drug combinations (appendix pp 45–46). We modelled all-age and age-specific deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) for 204 countries and territories, and we present aggregated estimates for 21 GBD regions, seven GBD super-regions, and globally in 2019 (a full list of GBD locations by region is available in the appendix pp 100–05).16
For the first counterfactual scenario—where all drug-resistant infections are replaced by susceptible infections—we estimated only deaths and DALYs directly attributable to resistance. For the second counterfactual scenario—where all drug-resistant infections are replaced by no infection—we estimated all deaths and DALYs associated with resistant infection. Estimates of AMR burden based on each counterfactual are useful in different ways for informing the development of potential intervention strategies to control AMR.13, 17, 18
We used several data collection strategies. Through our large collaborator networks, we obtained datasets not previously available for AMR research, including hospital and laboratory data, as well as datasets published previously and those outlined in research articles.19 Each component of the estimation process had different data requirements and, as such, the input data used for each modelling component differed. The diverse data sought included the following sources: pharmaceutical companies that run surveillance networks, diagnostic laboratories, and clinical trial data; high-quality data from researchers including large multisite research collaborations, smaller studies, clinical trials, and well established research institutes based in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs); data from public and private hospitals and public health institutes providing diagnostic testing; global surveillance networks; enhanced surveillance systems; national surveillance systems; and surveillance systems for specific organisms such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (all sources are listed by data type in the appendix pp 8–15).
Figure 1 shows a summary of the distinct data types gathered and for which estimation step each data type was used. Also shown in figure 1 is the number of unique study-location-years and individual records or isolates available for each data type. Location-years of data refer to unique GBD locations and years for which we have records or isolates. In total, 471 million individual records or isolates covering 7585 study-location-years were used as input data to the estimation process. Table 1 shows the number of individual records or isolates used and number of countries covered in each of the five broad modelling components separately by GBD region. Two of five components included data from every GBD region and two of five included data from 19 of 21 GBD regions. Our models of sepsis and infectious syndrome were the most geographically sparse, covering 16 countries from ten regions; the input data for these models were highly detailed microdata that are only sparsely available. However, our framework for estimating the total envelope of infectious syndrome mortality used GBD cause-specific mortality estimates to minimise reliance on these sparse data.
All data inputs for the models were empirical data, not modelled estimates, except for a custom meta-analysis of vaccine probe data that we did to estimate the fraction of pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae (appendix pp 37–38). All study-level covariates for models, such as age and sex, were extracted from empirical data. All country-level covariates were modelled estimates that were produced previously for GBD 2019,20, 21 or those that were modelled by Browne and colleagues.22
Results: Deaths Directly Attributable to Antibacterial Resistance
We estimated that, in 2019, 1·27 million deaths (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 0·911–1·71) were directly attributable to resistance (ie, based on the counterfactual scenario that drug-resistant infections were instead drug susceptible) in the 88 pathogen–drug combinations evaluated in this study. On the basis of a counterfactual scenario of no infection, we estimated that 4·95 million deaths (3·62–6·57) were associated with bacterial AMR globally in 2019 (including those directly attributable to AMR). Table 2 provides estimates of deaths, YLLs, and DALYs from AMR for each counterfactual.