8th September was declared as the International Literacy Day by UNESCO on October 26, 1966. It is celebrated to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. It is also an opportunity for governments, civil societies and stakeholders to highlight and strive for improvements, and work on the remaining literacy challenges that still exist in the world. While achieving 100% literacy rate is a top priority for Indians, health literacy is also important.

Importance of Health Literacy

Health literacy is defined as the capacity to gain, process, and implement the basic health information we receive to make appropriate health care decisions. Up to 40 percent of urban Indian adults scored poor in health literacy skills.

A study done by North Carolina University, USA has shown that patients with inadequate literacy level have less health-related knowledge, receive less preventive care, have poorer control of their chronic illnesses, and are hospitalised more frequently than other patients.

Ways to Improve Health Literacy

1)   Incorporate health information in school level: One way to encourage health literacy among the general populace is to incorporate health and science information in the education system at the school and university levels. Educating people in health literacy at an early stage helps them in leading a better quality of life. The earlier an individual is exposed to health literacy skills the better for the person and the community.

2)   eHealth Literacy- eHealth literacy, a relatively new concept that combines individual’s ability to search successfully for information and collect the desired health information from electronic sources and use such information to make an informed health decision. Due to the increasing influence of the internet for information-seeking and health information distribution purposes, eHealth literacy has become an important topic of research in recent years. Yes, we all know the internet is not always a reliable source of information. But if more time, money and energy is given in maintaining a reliable and well researched information directory then we can surely achieve a well-informed populace.

3)   Development of a health literacy program: A successful health literacy program is important to maintain health literacy. Many people assume these goals should communicate health information to the public, however to be successful the goals should not only communicate with people but also consider social and environmental factors that influence lifestyle choices. For example – the movement to end smoking. When a health literacy program is put into place where only the negative side effects of smoking are told to the public it is doomed to fail. However, when there is a larger program put in – one that includes strategies outlining how to quit smoking, raising tobacco prices, reducing access to tobacco by both adults and minors, and a social unacceptability of smoking – it will be much more effective.

(The views expressed here are my own and shouldn’t be construed as the views of any of my partners/employers, present or past)

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