The UK will cut drug-resistant infections by 10% and reduce human antibiotic use by 15% over the next five years as part of a new strategy to tackle so-called superbugs.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is considered one of the greatest threats to human health, with predictions it could become a bigger killer than cancer if it not tackled with a global effort.
More than 500,000 people die worldwide every year from antibiotic resistant infections, a figure forecast to rise to 10 million a year by 2050.
Health officials in the UK have raised the spectre of an “antibiotic apocalypse”, with concerns that routine procedures such as Caesarian section could become too risky to perform because of the risk of infection.
The new UK strategy, backed by the prime minister, will see the government adopt a 20-year plan with targets to reduce infection and antibiotic use among humans and in livestock and pets.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Antimicrobial resistance is as big a danger to humanity as climate change or warfare. That’s why we need an urgent global response.
“The UK has taken a global lead by setting out a 20 year AMR vision explaining the steps we must take nationally and internationally to rise to this challenge.
“I am proud of the work the UK has done to secure antimicrobial resistance on the global agenda.
“We’re playing our part both at home and on the world stage.”
The proposals also include an attempt to encourage pharmaceutical companies to prioritise new antibiotics over the mass-production of over-prescribed drugs to which resistance is growing.
The scheme will trial a new payment system that offers incentives for innovation, rather than the current system that rewards volume sales.
It was first proposed by Lord Jim O’Neill, author of a definitive review of AMR commissioned by the previous government.
He cautiously welcomed the strategy and the trial of a new payment system, but told Sky News the pharmaceutical industry has to do more.
“Among the many problems and the broader issue is we treat these things like sweets.
“The whole set of rules that the pharma industry use – the more you sell of anything the higher price, the better it is – of course the last thing we want is that going on with antibiotics.
“What this now certainly makes clear is that from now on you are not going to get compensated for how many you sell.”
The strategy will also target antibiotic use in animals. Livestock and pets account for more than a third of antibiotic consumption in the UK, though the government says sales for use in food production have fallen by 40%.