September 21, 2016, by Brigitte Nerlich

AMR and the ‘rhetoric of resistance’

Today Helen Lambert, the ESRC‘s AMR champion, posted a blog post under the title ‘Rhetoric of resistance‘ on the AMR Social Science Champion Blog ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance (UNGA) meeting about which she also tweeted during the day.

“The primary objective of the meeting is to summon and maintain strong national, regional and international political commitment in addressing antimicrobial resistance comprehensively and multi-sectorally, and to increase and improve awareness of antimicrobial resistance.” So what has this to do with language or ‘rhetoric’?

AMR and responsible language use

For a while now I have been worried about responsible language use in the context of raising awareness about synthetic biology, but more recently also in the context of raising public awareness about and changing behaviour around antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance.

Helen’s blog post talks about the dangers of an ‘oppositional language’ of good and bad, rational and irrational use of antibiotics, of good and bad countries (which are even colour-coded), which might be detrimental to the tasks that the meeting set itself (managing AMR around the world). She also talks about the language of ‘threat and misdemeanour’ and the dangers of stigmatisation that might result from all this. As Helen says: “The demand for campaigns to ‘raise public awareness’ or ‘educate the public’ about antibiotics skates over the risks of disseminating simplistic messages in low-literacy environments where access to antibiotics is already limited. ”


Much of the (Western) language currently in use masks the important issue of ‘equity’ which is really the focus of Helen’s post. She says: “To put it another way, equity is central to decision-making about which policies and measures will really contain AMR effectively – but this issue too is effectively masked by what is fast becoming an empty alliterative slogan, ‘excess versus access’.  In reality, the tension between these two poles will only be resolved by addressing the difficult, mundane, long-term problems of poorly resourced health systems that mean access to high quality clinical care and diagnostics is limited to a wealthy minority (and often, in the competitive private medical markets that characterise much of the developing world and lead to overprescribing, unnecessary testing and overdiagnosis, not even them).”

I would recommend you read the whole post – so go over here and read on!

Posted in antibiotics