Evaluating the relationship between community water and sanitation access and the global burden of antibiotic resistance: an ecological study

Elsevier, The Lancet Microbe, Volume 4, August 2023
Fuhrmeister E.R., Harvey A.P., Nadimpalli M.L., Gallandat K., Ambelu A., Arnold B.F. et al.

Background: Antibiotic resistance is a leading cause of death, with the highest burden occurring in low-resource settings. There is little evidence on the potential for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) access to reduce antibiotic resistance in humans. We aimed to determine the relationship between the burden of antibiotic resistance in humans and community access to drinking water and sanitation. Methods: In this ecological study, we linked publicly available, geospatially tagged human faecal metagenomes (from the US National Center for Biotechnology Information Sequence Read Archive) with georeferenced household survey datasets that reported access to drinking water sources and sanitation facility types. We used generalised linear models with robust SEs to estimate the relationship between the abundance of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in human faecal metagenomes and community-level coverage of improved drinking water and sanitation within a defined radii of faecal metagenome coordinates. Findings: We identified 1589 metagenomes from 26 countries. The mean abundance of ARGs, in units of log10 ARG fragments per kilobase per million mapped reads classified as bacteria, was highest in Africa compared with Europe (p=0·014), North America (p=0·0032), and the Western Pacific (p=0·011), and second highest in South-East Asia compared with Europe (p=0·047) and North America (p=0·014). Increased access to improved water and sanitation was associated with lower ARG abundance (effect estimate –0·22, [95% CI –0·39 to –0·05]) and the association was stronger in urban (–0·32 [–0·63 to 0·00]) than in rural (–0·16 [–0·38 to 0·07]) areas. Interpretation: Although additional studies to investigate causal effects are needed, increasing access to water and sanitation could be an effective strategy to curb the proliferation of antibiotic resistance in low-income and middle-income countries. Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.