Friday, 17 February 2017

Health Literacy and Development

It is rather unfortunate that when we speak about literacy and all its variations we tend to overlook health literacy.  Health literacy is defined in the Institute of Medicine Report, Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion as the degree to which individuals have the capability to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Regrettably, in spite of numerous interventions over the years Jamaica still has not reached 100 per cent literacy. This sad reality can and does have long term and devastating consequences, especially on our elderly population, the subset often inflicted and impacted by lifestyle diseases. The inability to read oftentimes can put one’s health in jeopardy since the individual will not have the necessary literacy and numeracy skills to, for example, to understand nutrition labels and read doctor’s instructions regarding how to administer medication. Additionally, the measurement of medication, as well as how one calculates and understand one’s blood sugar and blood pressure readings require numeracy skills. In too many instances many patients end taking the wrong dosage of the medication, either by over dosing or by taking less than the required dosage because they are illiterate, either way the individual does not benefit. Unfortunately, there are instances too where the caregiver is not able to read and as such the health of the individual is further compromised. As a society we need to redouble our efforts to working towards the goal of 100 per cent literacy. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2015 country profile of Jamaica, more than 161,000 males and close to 74,000 females who are over the age of 15 lack basic reading and writing skills. The UNESCO data does not augur well for the society regarding literacy in general and health literacy in particular. The intersectionality of gender and culture are significant components of health literacy. Disturbingly, we live in a society where men who are unable to read prefer to remain in the dark than to seek help. For many males to seek help in respect to their illiteracy is tantamount to an attack on their masculinity and manhood.  It bears thought that the average literacy score for women is usually higher than that for men. There is an urgent need to engage in more public education especially for our elderly who are among the most vulnerable in the society.
More Outreach Needed
Our Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) and other interest groups need to do more outreach in respect to targeting illiteracy in our nation. Our churches need to engage the population more in assisting in remedial reading classes. While it is commendable that a number of churches have embarked on having health fairs and days which service the wider community, more engagement regarding the elderly and shut- in needs to be done in order to assist in making the lives and health of our citizens more comfortable.  Health literacy is an issue which requires the attention of the government since it is the bloodline through which the solutions towards having a healthy society which is a critical element in order to have sustainable development.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “it is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver”.
Wayne Campbell