Database of health pictograms for limited literacy end-users (South Africa)

25 February, 2022

Dear HIFA members


I would like to share a link with you of a database of health pictograms that have been designed and tested over a number of years at Rhodes University in South Africa. Our target end-users are those with limited literacy. It is a challenging task to achieve success in this group as so much of what is "obvious" to those of us with good literacy skills is totally obscure to those who have never had the opportunity to learn the meaning of e.g. an arrow shape and what it is meant to represent. Our pictograms have been tested mainly in our local Xhosa population, so we cannot guarantee universal generalisability (as is the case for any other pictograms). Categories in the database include Dosage and frequency; Route of administration; Additional medicine instructions; Side effects or indications; Storage of medicines; Tablets, capsules, bottles, droppers; Miscellaneous; TB-related pictograms.

The link is hosted on the Rhodes University, Faculty of Pharmacy webpage:

For those interested in this area, the following two recent papers may be of some interest:

Dowse R. Pharmacists, are words enough? The case for pictograms as a valuable communication tool. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy. 2021;17:1518-1522. DOI: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2020.10.013

Dowse R. Designing and reporting pictogram research: Problems, pitfalls and lessons learnt. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy. 2021;17:1208-1215. DOI: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2020.08.013.

I am happy to be contacted for further information or if any assistance is required.

Best wishes to all.

Ros Dowse:


Ros Dowse (PhD)

Emeritus Associate Professor

Faculty of Pharmacy


South Africa

Mobile: +27 (0)83 5569796

HIFA profile: Ros Dowse is Associate Professor, Faculty of Pharmacy, Rhodes University, South Africa. Professional interests: Development of communication tools (visuals/pictograms plus simple text) for health carers, workers and providers who work with patients with limited literacy and reading skills. Design and evaluation of health-related visuals or pictograms, and of simple information materials (illustrated medicine labels, patient information materials and posters). r.dowse AT