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Antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial stewardship programmes: benefiting the patient or the population?
  1. Alberto Giubilini
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alberto Giubilini, Faculty of Philosophy, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, 161-7 St Ebbes St, OX1 1PT Oxford, UK; alberto.giubilini{at}gmail.com

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Antimicrobial resistance kills people. According to a recent estimate, ‘7 00 000 people die of resistant infections every year’, and ‘by 2050 10 million lives a year are at risk due to drug resistant infections, as are 100 trillion USD of economic output’.1 Today, ‘bacteria are resistant to nearly all antibiotics that were earlier active against them’.2 For all these reasons, antimicrobial resistance is considered a ‘slowly emerging disaster’3 and a ‘global health security issue’.4 The prospect we are facing is that of a ‘post antibiotic era’,5 in which we risk losing the availability of effective antibiotics and, with them, of medical interventions that require effective antibiotics, such as chemotherapy, transplantation and major surgery.

One of the causes of antimicrobial resistance is antimicrobial consumption. As put by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘the use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world: simply using antibiotics creates resistance’.6 According to the 2016 Review on Antimicrobial Resistance commissioned by the UK Government, ‘more consumption of antibiotics directly leads to more resistance’.1 This is because microbes that are not killed by antimicrobials are more likely to reproduce and proliferate and to pass their resistance genes on to other microbes. Thus, exactly like the consumption of many other finite resources, antibiotic and antimicrobial consumption gives rise to the collective action problem known as ‘tragedy of the commons’: consuming a certain resource, such as antimicrobials, is in an individual’s best short-term interest, but many instances of individual consumption erode the resource and therefore conflict with the collective interest in preserving the good. How to solve a tragedy of the commons? As is the case with the consumption of other finite resources, the answer is quite simple: by rationing the resource.

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