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A (super) bug’s life

24 February, 2020

How do you make people wake up to a massive public health crisis that is staring them in the face? Well, when it comes to antibiotic resistance, words and language are part of the answer. 

Research we conducted for the Wellcome Trust in 2015 found that understanding of most terms used (e.g. AMR) was very low and misconceptions about this area abound. Notably, many people thought it was their own bodies that become resistant to antibiotics and therefore that if they didn’t take them very often, they would never have a problem. This led us to suggest changing the language to ‘drug-resistant infections’ as one way of addressing this issue, and helping people realise that this is a problem that is relevant to everyone.

A new report by Wellcome, based on global research in seven countries, explores how to frame the issue in more depth and detail, building from the fact that the language we use really matters when it comes to raising public understanding. It makes five key recommendations around the most effective ways to communicate with the public about drug-resistant infection – such as the need to ‘focus on the here and now’: rather than giving future projections around the number of people who will be affected, which are too abstract and feel less urgent, show people how this is affecting us, right now. And it combines this with a practical toolkit to help experts and commentators apply the thinking.

It’s great research, and we’re pleased to see it being given the prominence it deserves on social media, leading, we hope, to better education, awareness raising, and, of course, changed behaviour.

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