By James Gamble

Decades of war in Iraq have led to a “catastrophic” rise in resistance to antibiotics which could spread and cause 10 million deaths by 2050, warns a new study.

Scientists say a combination of destroyed healthcare infrastructure, shortages of medicine, metal contamination and poor sanitation are all to blame for the resistance to drugs in humans.

The worrying new research on antibiotic resistance, or AMR, estimates its global rise will be responsible for millions of unnecessary deaths if nothing is done to prevent it.

Tablets on a table. The “catastrophic” rise in antibiotic resistance brought on by the decades-long war in Iraq could result in 10 million fatalities by 2050, reveals a new study. SILAS STEIN/GETTY IMAGES

The study, conducted by scientists at the Department of Experimental Pathology, Immunology & Microbiology at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, focused on Iraq as a war-torn nation with conflicts raging in the region from the 1980s to the present day.

These include the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the First Gulf War in 1991, and UN-imposed economic sanctions after Iraq’s invasion of its neighbor Kuwait (1990-2003).

More recent examples count the US invasion and occupation of the 2000s and Iraqi state conflicts with the so-called Islamic State in the 2010s.

The authors of the study, published in the journal BMJ Global Health, say the conflicts have led to an environment perfect for the spread of ‘microbial pathogens,’ which cause disease.

Metals used in weaponry and explosives such as lead, mercury, chromium and copper, are all present in war environments, and some bacterial species have been shown to have evolved resistance to combat these heavy metals’ toxicity.

Study author Dr. Antoine Abou Fayad said: “Contemporary conflicts waged in urban and industrialized landscapes pressure microbes with selective environments that contain unique combinations and concentrations of toxic heavy metals and antibiotics, while simultaneously providing niches and dissemination routes for microbial pathogens.

“These can include the high number of wounded, the nature of wounds, refugee displacement, the collapse of sanitation controls, loss of diagnostics and skilled healthcare personnel, the dismantlement of healthcare infrastructures and the placement of often under-resourced and improvised field hospitals where both injured combatants and civilians are exposed to harmful pathogens with limited care and resources to properly recover.”

Though war environments have been linked with the emergence of AMR since the 1940s, the research team says it has so far received little attention and needs to be studied further in order to prevent millions of unnecessary deaths.

Resistance to antibiotics is estimated to cause millions of deaths unless action is taken. PIETRO JENG/PREXELS

Dr. Fayad added: “Taken together, a destroyed healthcare infrastructure, inappropriate microbial therapies, limited resources, high heavy metal contamination in humans and the environment, and a lack of [clean water, sanitation and hygiene], combined, likely play instrumental roles in the catastrophic rise of AMR in Iraq and, by extension, regionally and globally.

“Understanding these linkages between AMR and conflict, especially across time, is essential for a global response to AMR, especially as there is little indication that conflict, worldwide, will abate in years to come.”


Produced in association with SWNS Talker.

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