Antibiotic resistance has a language barrier

Antimicrobial resistance, antibiotic stewardship, AMR, DRI, war on superbugs...

Wellcome is joining international experts to call for a review of the global language used to discuss the problem of pathogens resistant to available drugs.

In a joint comment published in Nature, the five authors, from South Africa, Switzerland, France and the UK, say failure to use simple, clear and consistent language risks undermining the global response to this urgent health threat.

They say a review is essential to address misunderstandings and improve awareness among the public and policymakers.

Co-author Tim Jinks, Head of Wellcome's Drug-resistant Infections Programme, says: "It is vital that the problem is communicated in a way that everyone can understand and helps people to engage in meaningful discussions about solutions.

"The confusion created by the different terms currently being used is preventing understanding that this is a health problem now, and what governments, health leaders and individuals need do to address it."

The group calls for particular focus on three areas of language:

The authors are calling on a newly formed UN taskforce to prioritise action to ensure global terminology is reviewed.

Lead author Marc Mendelson, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Head of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital, University of Cape Town, says: "With increasing involvement of non-clinical specialists and the public in a multidisciplinary response to the global health crisis of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, we need standardised, balanced and clearly understood terminology.

"Such terminology must be understood across language, geographic, disciplinary and social settings, and will require a programme of research to optimise its use."

A 2015 survey by the World Health Organization across 12 countries highlighted the lack of familiarity with the language of antibiotic resistance.

A study by Wellcome Trust in the same year also found people in the UK have little awareness of what ‘antibiotic resistance’ means and how it might affect their health.

More information

Modern medicine relies on being able to treat infectious diseases. Read why we're leading the global response to drug-resistant infections.