Five major takeaways on antibiotic-resistant infections in Africa

Published January 3, 2024

illustration of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria

Photo by CDC, Unsplash.

“[Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)] is really that cross-cutting issue that can bring a stop, or regression, to the progress that we have made when you think about modern medicine,” said Yewande Alimi, AMR/ONE Health Lead at Africa CDC, in a podcast. “[It] is a real great priority for [the] African continent.”

IHME and its collaborators recently published findings on AMR, also known as antibiotic resistance, in the WHO African region in The Lancet Global Health. Here, we highlight five key points from the study:

1. Deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections vary widely around the region.

When it comes to deaths linked to antibiotic resistance, deaths per 100,000 people varied five-fold across the region, after adjusting for age. Algeria had the lowest age-adjusted deaths per 100,000 associated with antibiotic resistance. 

Deaths linked to antibiotic-resistant infections per 100,000 people (age-adjusted) in 2019

2.  Deaths tend to be lowest where fertility is low and income and education are high. 

The study revealed that the countries with more education and income, and lower fertility, tended to have lower levels of death linked to antibiotic resistance. In this analysis, the researchers compared Socio-demographic Index  – a metric that combines income, fertility, and education  – to antibiotic resistance deaths per 100,000 people and found a strong correlation.  

3. Antibiotic-resistant infections are a bigger killer than HIV/AIDS and malaria. 

Antibiotic resistance was a bigger cause of death than HIV/AIDS and malaria in 2019. However, HIV/AIDS and malaria garner far more funding and attention compared to antibiotic resistance.  

4. A vaccine exists for only one of the four major pathogens that are responsible for antibiotic-resistant infections. 

Among the four pathogens that account for more than 100,000 deaths each year in the region, a vaccine exists for one of these pathogens, Streptococcus pneumoniae. If vaccines were available for the three other leading pathogens  – Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus  – these vaccines could potentially save more than half a million lives in the region each year.  

Related to vaccination, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced an initiative to expand people’s access to and use of vaccines on the continent in collaboration with the African Union Commission and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. 

5. Better access to antibiotics could save lives.

Greater access to standard antibiotics, such as penicillin and amoxicillin, is needed to prevent deaths. Shortages of these vital medicines can cause people to die from infections.  


Scientific Publication

Global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 2019: a systematic analysis