Global Health Asia-Pacific Issue 2 | 2023 | Page 24

Holistic Health

Health literacy empowers communities

It can improve individual well-being while reducing communal inequities

Abasic understanding of the many causes driving health problems is paramount to improve the wellbeing of individuals as well as entire communities — a form of knowledge often referred to as health literacy and an important objective pursued by the World Health Organization ( WHO ).

“ We stress that health literacy is an important factor in ensuring significant health outcomes and in this regard , call for the development of appropriate action plans to promote health literacy ,” reads the United Nations ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration of 2009 .
One key benefit of improved health literacy is empowering individuals to understand how their lifestyles and choices can either increase the risk for certain conditions or contribute to their prevention . For example , smoking is associated with a higher risk for a host of conditions , including cancer and heart disease , two of the biggest killers worldwide , but many people are still unaware of such a strong link . The WHO says that warnings on packages can play an important role in raising awareness about the detrimental consequences of smoking , in particular the severity and magnitude of health harms . Such images are also effective among people with low literacy and the young and have already worked in Canada where a study found that people who read and discussed health warnings on cigarette boxes were more likely to stop or reduce their habit three months later .
Comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information can nudge people to better protect themselves during sex , thus reducing the risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases ( STD ) like HIV . This form of health literacy can also help girls delay pregnancy and stay in school , thus reducing gender gaps in education and improving future economic opportunities . One prime example was a radio serial drama in Nigeria that aimed to educate women about sexual and reproductive health . It led to an increase in female listeners reporting condom use during intercourse , an effective way to prevent ST�s .
Individuals are not the only beneficiaries , as strong health literacy can also make communities aware of their health needs , thus pushing authorities
to implement measures strengthening public health . “ Meeting the health literacy needs of the most disadvantaged and marginalized societies will particularly accelerate progress in reducing inequities in health and beyond ,” according to the WHO .
In turn , higher health literacy can also reduce health costs . In the US alone , it could lead to 993,000 fewer hospital visits a year , according to United Health Group , while resulting in US $ 25.4 billion potential savings in health spending .
“ People who have higher levels of health literacy have better health outcomes because they know where to go , they join screening programmes , they know when to act in a timely manner ,” said Kristine Sørensen , founder of the �lobal Health �iteracy Academy , according to the report Health literacy around the world by The Economist Intelligence Unit .
The WHO recommends governments provide comprehensive health information that doesn ’ t focus only on individual lifestyles but also highlights social , economic , and environmental determinants to health . For instance , around two billion people lack safe drinking water and 3.6 billion people use sanitation services that leave human waste untreated , according to the WHO . This leads to at least 1.4 million deaths every year from preventable causes associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation .
“ People who have higher levels of health literacy have better health outcomes because they know where to go , they join screening programmes , they know when to act in a timely manner .”
22 ISSUE 2 | 2023 GlobalHealthAsiaPacific . com