By Fiona Reynolds, CEO (@fireynolds), PRI
For nearly a year now the world has been reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. What began as a health threat rapidly snowballed into a wider socioeconomic crisis, which has affected humanity in more ways than we could have imagined. Today, facing a harrowing toll of nearly 1.5 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide, it’s clear that we must learn lessons from the pandemic to ensure we’re better prepared for a more sustainable future.
We may now be coming to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the promise of a vaccine in sight, but there is another silent threat looming in the background. Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, is the increasing resistance of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites to the effect of medications, thereby rendering common infections more and more difficult to treat and ultimately leading to the spread of disease and death.
As Professor Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance explains, AMR is a hidden pandemic and it’s on the rise as antibiotics continue to be over- and mis-used both by humans and in food-producing animals. And, in fact, the threat has only been compounded as a result of COVID-19 which has seen an increase in mis-prescription of antibiotics and growth in their use in treating complications related to the virus.
Already at least 700,000 people die each year as a result of AMR and if we continue on this trajectory, the UN Interagency Coordinating Group on AMR warns we could see 10 million deaths annually by 2050—more than six times the amount we’ve seen from the coronavirus thus far.
Like COVID-19, AMR has the potential to be much more than a health emergency, transforming into a deep socioeconomic crisis. The 2016 O’Neill Review estimates the cost to the global economy to be more than US $100 trillion in just 30 years’ time, equivalent to the GDP of the United Kingdom.
But the good news is, this time we’re armed with the lessons from COVID to inform our actions and we can join together now to ensure these grim predictions never become reality.
Last month was the first annual World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, which was marked with an important announcement. 12 leading global investors and financial intuitions, together representing US $4.8 trillion in AUM, joined the Investor Action on AMR initiative, of which PRI is proudly a Founding Collaborator. The first investor partners, all of whom are also PRI signatories, include:
- Amundi Asset Management
- Aviva Global Investors
- BMO Global Asset Management
- CDC Group
- Federated Hermes International
- EOS at Federated Hermes, on behalf of stewardship clients
- Genesis Investment Management
- The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
- Legal and General Investment Management
- Northern Trust Asset Management
- And Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management
These 12 partners have committed to assessing and integrating risks, opportunities and impacts related to AMR when making investment decisions and engaging with investee companies. They have pledged to adopt a ‘One Health’ perspective when considering the impacts of AMR, which requires a holistic and multi-sectoral approach, and recognises the interconnection between humans, animals and the environment. This collective approach to tackle AMR seeks to contribute to a more sustainable future while also reducing long-term risks for investors.
Over the coming weeks and months, this group of 12 will work to formulate a clear call to action to governments and work collaboratively to bring scale to the mission by getting even more investors involved. They will work with FAIRR and Access to Medicine Foundation to adopt an AMR lens to apply to their investment decision-making and engagement with companies. In addition, the partners will also undertake at least one ‘challenge’ to help combat AMR.
AMR is an increasingly urgent issue, and one which is already having a significant impact on human health. If it is not addressed, not only will these health impacts drastically increase, but there will be substantial risks for the global economy and societies worldwide. COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the interconnectedness of issues and shown us that a healthy economy simply isn’t possible without healthy people and a healthy planet at its heart.
So, as we work to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must carry forward the lessons we have learned. The role for investors in safeguarding societies, economies and the long-term value of their portfolios is a critical one.
I encourage more investors to get involved and to engage with the pharmaceutical sector, the agricultural sector and with governments to end the overuse and misuse of antibiotics for all our sakes.
To find out more, you can watch our recent webinar The Materiality of Superbugs: Investor Action on Antimicrobial Resistance or visit AMRinvestoraction.org, where you can register to become a partner.
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