Ros Dowse

Emeritus Associate Professor OR
046 603 8071

BPharm, PhD


Ros lectured at Rhodes University from 1985 to 2012 in Pharmaceutics and Pharmacy Practice until she was medically boarded in 2015. During her 23-year history of recurrent head and neck cancer, she has endured many operations and treatments. In an operation in 2013, her jaw was removed and replaced with a shaped fibula bone from her leg. This was a key milestone in her life, as the outcomes of this major, complex 12-hour operation were life-changing, resulting in functional impairment with eating and swallowing and leaving her with compromised speech. As a result, she was unable to continue with lecturing fulltime. However, she has continued to supervise postgraduate students and contributes to the Faculty programme. 

The 3-week 2013 hospital stay involved much unnecessary suffering which prompted her to make her voice heard as a patient. In a health communication context, Ros’ many in-hospital experiences over the years have enabled her ample opportunity to reflect on provider-patient communication and power differentials, along with the general treatment of patients by health professionals. She now acts as a patient advocate to the health professions, integrating her life roles of patient, researcher and health professional to provide much-needed insight into the incredibly challenging, functionally impaired lives of patients like her by presenting the patient perspective at head and neck cancer, maxillofacial rehabilitation, quality of life, and pharmacy conferences around the world. She particularly enjoys presenting to health professionals in training, and to fellow cancer patients.


Her main research focus is health communication and health literacy. Her research aims to support the most disempowered patients in South Africa who are less likely to be able to access, understand or act on health information to practice self-care or take medicines safely. It has included designing and evaluating health-related visuals (pictograms) to act as a communication tool to address communication barriers such as language and literacy, and to research their role when included in written medicine information and  when used by health professionals. Ros is internationally known for her research in pictograms and is the top-rated author on Scopus for ‘pharmaceutical pictograms’. Her work in this area is ongoing. Health literacy research is still in its infancy in South Africa, despite much of the population likely to have inadequate health literacy skills. Her research in this area has included assessing the adequacy of health literacy tests developed in high income countries, developing and testing culturally appropriate modified versions of these tests, and developing a health literacy test for limited literacy individuals (HELT-LL) which has been tested and validated. Further research is required to apply this test countrywide to enable the generation of South African health literacy data. Current research relating to ‘the patient voice’ and patient rights includes informed decision-making in oncology treatment by vulnerable patient groups, and quality of life evaluation in head and neck cancer patients.

Selected recent publications over the past 5 years:

Dowse R. Pharmacists, are words enough? The case for pictograms as a valuable communication tool. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy. 2020. 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. 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2020.08.013.

Chiwanza F, Irwin Y and Dowse R. Acceptance of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring in a semi-rural population in South Africa. Health SA Gesondheid. 2020. DOI: 10.4102/hsag.v25i0.1336.

Browne SH, Barford K, Ramela T and Dowse R. The impact of illustrated side effect information on understanding and sustained retention of antiretroviral side effect knowledge. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy. 2019;15:469-473.

Wrench W, van Dyk L, Srinivas S and Dowse R. Impact of illustrated information leaflet on correct usage of asthma metered dose inhaler. African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine. 2019;11(1), a2079.

Marimwe C and Dowse R. Health Literacy Test for Limited Literacy populations (HELT-LL): Validation in South Africa. Cogent Medicine. 2019;6:1650417.

Masilamoney M and Dowse R. Knowledge and practice of healthcare professionals relating to oral medicine use in swallowing-impaired patients: A scoping review. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice. 2018;26:199–209. 

Okeyo I and Dowse R. An illustrated booklet for reinforcing community health worker knowledge of TB and facilitating patient counselling. African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine. 2018;10(1):a1687.

Marimwe C and Dowse R. Development of an Item Bank of health literacy questions appropriate for limited literacy public sector patients in South Africa. Journal of Communication in Healthcare. 2017; 10:273-284.

Dowse R. The limitations of current health literacy measures for use in developing countries. Journal of Communication in Healthcare. 2016;9:4-6.

Dowse R. Reflecting on patient-centred care in pharmacy through an illness narrative. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, 2015;37:551-554.

Patel S and Dowse R. Understanding the medicine information-seeking behaviour and information needs of South African long-term patients with limited literacy skills. Health Expectations. 2015;18:1494-1507.

Link to Pictogram Database:

Web presence:



Google Scholar:

Hobbies and interests:

I read widely; fiction, nonfiction (medical, cancer, spiritual, surviving life). I am member of the birdwatching club and love losing myself in birding activities. I am a member of a movie club. I love listening to music – classical and contemporary. I live close to Nature on a rocky hillside surrounded by indigenous bush, and I walk every day with my dog in the surrounding hills - essential for keeping a grip on my sanity!