Traditionally, disease has been presented as an army of creepily crawly microbes, lurking on every surface and wafting through the air, waiting to jump up onto our skin or sneak into our nostrils to infect us.
But in an eternally ironic twist of circumstances, the very thing that we use to fight off the bacterial invader might actually be our most fickle foe. According to the medical journel Lancet, antibiotic resistance is now “a global health concern.”
With friends like that, who needs enemies?
The increased exposure to all sorts of antibiotics in our everyday lives has made it so that bacteria that used to be wiped out by a dose of antibiotics have developed resistant strains.
One of the most common – and most serious – of these is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the resistant strain of the staph bacteria most commonly found in health-care settings.
According to Wired, MRSA kills an estimated 19,000 Americans a year. That’s slightly more than HIV, and more than pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease, H. influenzae and group A Streptococcus combined.
You’d think that such a statistic would warrant some investment, or at least some concern.
But according to Wired, that’s not always the case.
It’s not that there haven’t been efforts. In 2011, the World Health Organization made microbial resistance the theme for World Health Day. Two separate sets of legislators have introduced bills to Congress.
Despite these good intentions, things are inching forward at a turtle’s pace. Why? Because as always, it all comes down to money. Specifically, research grant money.
“For every death from AIDS, the US federal research establishment awards approximately $69,000 in grant funds. And for every death from MRSA, it awards $570,” Wired reported.
Those numbers were taken from an analysis presented by Dr. Eli Perencevich of the University of Iowa, author of the blog Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention, at the World HAI Forum on Healthcare-Associated Infections.
According to Perencevich’s findings, the national research budget at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been rising. It went from $13.1 billion in 1998, to$ 28.7 billion in 2008. The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAD) budget went from $1.4 billion to $4.6 billion over the same decade. (For a more detailed breakdown of the numbers, click here)
However, one thing that should be taken into account is that the 2008 recession forced budgets to contract, causing federal agencies to become even more selective as to where money should be spent.
The issue here is not to spend less money on HIV research. In fact, Perencevich told Wired, legislators, agencies and researchers should take example from the results produced by the influx of funding into HIV-related studies. HIV has been a research priority for 30 years. That has made it possible for scientists to come up with thousands of antiviral and drug combinations for treatment.
On the other hand, very little exists to treat drug-resistant pathogens, he added.
What does this come down to? Well as Perencevich concluded in Wired, the same energy and commitment that goes into HIV must also go into antibacterial drug discovery. It’s not a question of cutting back; it’s about trying twice as hard.