Health Literacy is Vital in Prevention of Diseases
In the field of Public Health, Prevention is Primary. There is this popular saying in the field that ‘A perfect day for a public health practitioner is a day nothing happens’. Funny isn’t it? But it’s true.
Now how do you begin to talk about prevention, if the people do not even understand what you are trying to say to them? Imagine going to a typical rural setting in Africa and using terms or words like ‘Cardiovascular diseases, Insulin dependant, and diabetes, pneumococcal’ and other medical terms. These words would mean little or nothing to them. We have heard hilarious stories of some teachers been addressed or called by the ambiguous words or languages they use while communicating. This might be the situation as the case may be.
While reading I came across a definition of Health Literacy by the US Department of Health and Human services (HHS), and it states that ‘the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions’.
Individuals with narrow health literacy can hardly read or understand food labels, understand preventive measures, complete health assessment forms, communicate symptoms clearly to physicians, measuring medications or even abiding by self care instructions.
I can attribute the successful eradication of the deadly Ebola Virus in Nigeria and Liberia to a successful use of health literacy tools. The eradication of the virus in Nigeria was very remarkable. We saw how health workers, volunteers, policy makers, communities, professionals, families and individuals in a united multi sector struggle and determination, with health literacy as the main weapon, prevented themselves and their loved ones from being affected thereby eliminating the deadly virus in Nigeria. What a happy ending to what would have been a menace. Liberia has now joined to the success story and its all thanks to being health Literate.
Health Literacy plays an important role that cannot be over emphasized in the prevention of diseases. An increase in any nation’s health literacy is in itself a joint effort. The Ministries of Health in Africa should work with her public and private sector partners to develop a plan that would improve the health literacy amongst the people in Africa. Just like in the eradication of the deadly Ebola virus in places like Nigeria and Liberia where it was greatly hit: the action plan should further seek to engage policy makers, communities, individuals and families in an effort to improve health literacy.
However, the principle of this plan should be based on the fact that every individual has a right to health Information, which helps them make informed and preventive decisions. And health services when needed should be delivered in such a way that it is understandable and beneficial to health.
With the proper and non – ambiguous delivery of information, we can nurture a philosophy of improved health literacy to improve health of individuals and all communities.
As a Public Health Practitioner and a global citizen, I want Nigeria and the whole of Africa and even the world to be in a very healthy state. The life expectancy rate in Nigeria should be achieved to 70. From 52.11 years. It is doable and achievable. Improving and working on Health Literacy can help us achieve that. You can join me to ensure that Nigeria and the rest of Africa and the world becomes more health literate.
Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US) National action plan to improve health literacy. [Cited 2010 Sep 9]. Available from: URL:http://www.health.gov/communication/HLActionPlan