Antibiotic-resistant bacteria has become a growing problem around the country for both doctors and hospitals, causing an estimated 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths around the United States each year. And in an effort to combat these resistant forms of bacteria, the Obama administration wants to double the amount of federal funding dedicated to fighting these superbugs.
As part of the annual budget request sent to Congress, President Obama will ask for an estimated $1.2 billion in funding to fight these new, stronger forms of bacteria, White House officials say. The funding would be used to speed development of stronger antibiotics and other diagnostic tools to improve surveillance and treatment for superbugs, and help prevent the spread of these types of microbes in hospitals and other healthcare settings too.
The budget proposal from the administration comes several months after Obama released a five-year plan to slow down antibiotic resistance, and directed federal agencies to ramp up efforts to deal with this growing threat saying that it was necessary "to better protect our children and grandchildren from the reemergence of diseases and infections that the world conquered decades ago."
Scientists and doctors have long warned that if antibiotic resistance is allowed to continue at its current rate, routine infections could become life threatening and common surgeries could become dangerous for patients. Vulnerable hospital patients and nursing home residents could be placed at an especially high risk for contracting infections that could prove deadly.
As part of the spending package, $650 million will go to the NIH and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to expand development of antibacterial drugs and diagnostics, $280 million will be allocated for CDC led efforts to reduce the overprescribing of antibiotics and to better track outbreaks of drug-resistant infections, $77 million would go to the Agriculture Department to develop alternatives to the antibiotics used in farm animals, and $47 million would head over to the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate new drugs and monitor the use of antibiotics in livestock.
"If we continue along the line of more and more microbes becoming antibiotic-resistant, we could be faced with a situation where we have untreatable infections," says Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. "Talk about setting back the clock. That's bad news."
According to Fauci, the federal government must play a significant role in developing antibiotics, as they lack economic incentives for big pharmaceutical companies to invest in these treatments. Unlike many drugs that can be taken by millions of people for years, antibiotics are usually only taken for a week at a time and lose their efficacy the more they are used, limiting financial rewards for companies developing them.