An estimated 7.7 million people die from bacterial infections a year around the world. A growing number of these deaths are caused by bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance – the ability to thrive in the face of antibiotics. This ability of germs to defy the effects of drugs is called antimicrobial resistance, or AMR.

But why wait to treat these infections after they’ve happened? It’s far better to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Dr. Joseph Lewnard, an associate professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of California Berkeley, is studying ways to prevent infections. Vaccines, better hygiene and sanitation, clean water, and proper and careful use of antibiotics and antivirals can all play a role.

Many governments have done far too little to protect their citizens from infections, Lewnard says. “This has not necessarily been a shining success story,” he says in this episode of One World, One Health.

He helped write one of a series of papers in the Lancet medical journal looking at the problem of drug-resistant superbugs. The numbers are significant.

“Improving infection prevention and control in healthcare facilities including better hand hygiene and more regular cleaning and sterilization of equipment, could save up to 337,000 lives a year,” they write.

They estimate that clean water and sanitation could save another quarter million lives each year.

“Access to improved sanitation facilities (defined as toilets that are not shared with other households and are connected to piped sewer systems or septic tanks) reduces diarrhea incidence by 47 percent,” they point out.

Listen as Dr. Lewnard explains some of the other findings to One World, One Health host Maggie Fox.


Learn more about the struggle to control drug-resistant bacteria, viruses, and fungi in some of our other episodes. We’ve spoken with experts about how vaccines can help prevent the spread of drug-resistant germs, about tracking superbugs in sewage, and the surprising rise of drug-resistant fungi. Experts in drug design have talked to us about the search for new and better antibiotics and how these little organisms are winning an arms race against us. Filmmakers have told us about how storytelling can help people understand the threat while global health specialists explained that good stewardship can keep the antibiotics we have working as they should. We’ve even investigated superbug mysteries, like the case of the killer eyedrops.


Head shot of Joseph Leward

Dr. Joseph Lewnard is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. He conducts studies of the natural history and transmission dynamics of respiratory pathogens and the effectiveness of countermeasures. He is a Senior Fellow at the One Health Trust. His work with OHT includes studies of the burden of antimicrobial resistance preventable by public health interventions such as vaccination and studies on the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in south India. Outside of this work, he co-leads the California Center for Outbreak Readiness, a CDC-funded Center for Innovation in infectious disease modeling and analysis based at UC Berkeley and Kaiser Permanente Southern California. He is a standing member of the NIH ASPB study section, a fellow of the Emerging Leaders in Health and Medicine of the US National Academy of Medicine and the Kavli Frontiers of Science fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Early Career Research Excellence Award from the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health.


Hosted and written by Maggie Fox
Special guest: Joseph Lewnard
Produced and edited by Samantha Serrano
Music composed and sound edited by Raquel Krügel