Some of my most vivid memories of my early graduate school years were discussions about the difficulties in drug development for new antibiotics. A well-respected chemistry professor who worked on the synthesis of new compounds capable of fighting pathogenic bacteria, the bacteria that cause disease, spoke soberly about antibiotic resistance. From his presentations and those of other experts, we learned that bacteria have been evolving much faster than the research required to control and treat infectious diseases. The global problem of resistant organisms continues to be of great concern.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is one of society’s main public health problems. The reasons for the resistance by infectious organisms include the overuse of antimicrobial drugs, unclean water, poor sanitation and hygiene, the spread of infectious diseases among farm animals, among others. The more current research now links antimicrobial resistance to climate change and other pollution problems, such as incomplete sewage treatment and chemicals in water.
A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) explains that pollution from the pharmaceutical, agricultural, and health-care sectors must be addressed to reduce the problem of evolving antibiotic resistant organisms. It predicts that drug resistance will cause an additional 10 million deaths by 2050. “The same drivers that cause environmental degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem. The impacts of antimicrobial resistance could destroy our health and food systems,” according to Inger Andersen, the executive director of UNEP. “Cutting down pollution is a prerequisite for another century of progress towards zero hunger and good health.”
From Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, “A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.” “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.