By: CHRISTINE RODRIGUES, Director at Norton Rose Fulbright SA
Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of microorganisms to resist antimicrobial treatments and is said to be caused by the overuse or misuse of antibiotics. While antimicrobial resistance is recognised as a growing global threat, it presents a compelling opportunity for insurers. They have the opportunity to develop insurance products to cover potential liabilities attributable to antimicrobial resistance.
More and more people are becoming resistant to antibiotics not necessarily because of the medication that they use but rather from the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, aquaculture and crop culture (more specifically anti-fungicides). Antibiotics are used to ensure the good health of animals and crops.
As the world evolves, so do liabilities. Only a few years ago people did not conceive that cybercrime and its liability would be considered one of the biggest risks to business.
In the past year alone it has affected 8.8 million South Africans, according to a study by internet security company Norton.
The risk of antimicrobial resistance increases in jurisdictions where legislation, regulatory surveillance and monitoring systems are weak or inadequate. But, the litigation risk and liability in more sophisticated jurisdictions is greater because people are more educated on antimicrobial resistance. At a recent session on the NHI, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi spoke about the global issue of antibiotics in food and voiced his concern that our increased consumption of antibiotics could lead to an eventual immunity to them.
THE ISSUE OF ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE
Where there is antimicrobial resistance, treatment of infections and disease become more difficult and may even become impossible. Routine surgery and minor infections could become life threatening.
As resistance increases, drug companies will need to spend more money on research and in the development of drugs that can help fight disease and infection. The stark reality is that a drug such as penicillin is no longer as potent against disease as it was many years ago when it was first developed.
Potential liability could exist for farmers or food producers where antibiotics are used. There are calls for food producers to label the quantity of antibiotics used in the production of food, with the Minister echoing this call at the recent event. Could there be claims from groups of people that exposure to the products of a particular food producer has led to antimicrobial resistance?
Liability and class actions against farmers or food producers of antimicrobial resistance is not necessarily a far-fetched possibility. Class actions against tobacco companies and asbestos cases have become a reality in recent years.
Insurers have the opportunity to create a liability insurance product that is unique to South Africa taking into consideration local regulation and foreign trends and places the local industry into the cutting edge of developing unique and innovative insurance products.