Exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Ude Ucha Kalu, a medical student at the Federal University of Lagos, Nigeria. Ms Kalu is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA).
Health literacy and health policy are important, but why? Health literacy refers to the ability and degree to which an individual can read, utilize information of healthcare to make some decisions and instructions for treatments and prevention. Meanwhile health policy consists of decisions and actions that are undergone to achieve specific healthcare goals in a society. Knowing this, it still looks appalling that many societies are still suffering many disease outbreaks.
Recently health issues have become top priority of many governments in the world, ranging from minor fever to pandemics such as Malaria, Lassa fever and Ebola; but the most disturbing factor is that the people in the region where this outbreak occurs have the highest number of ignorant and illiterate people, who have failed to acknowledge simple factors that could determine the state of their health.
In this context even if a policy is made that may solve a current epidemic, it may not work if the people in these populations are illiterate. Studies have proven that we have more illiterate people health wise; so without proper knowledge, what’s to say that these individuals won’t have problems understanding prescription. Low health literacy has been seen to reduce the success of treatment and increase the risk of treatment and medical error, leading to the medical system being blamed for the cause of more problems.
Health literacy has posed some major problems for implementation of health policies and it has become a known fact that individuals don’t even care about their health until it leads to a major system breakdown, where they have no choice but to seek the help of a health practitioner. If this setoff people had been educated about the risks of certain actions and prevention of certain illnesses, the society would have less health issues to deal with, because its people would have the knowledge to take care of themselves.
In a situation where a society is completely illiterate to curb health issues, then the population will have a hard time relating to policies that may aid their pending situations; this would further spread diseases and it would be harder for the society to fight this disease because the entire population do not understand the measures in the policy that would help to curb the situation. Take Nigeria for instance, during the outbreak of Ebola, because some people were not medically inclined they didn’t die of the disease itself but were poisoning themselves with salt, thinking that it would prevent the disease when the nation initially thought that the disease was airborne. This situation shows that a society can fail in its eradication when not having health ideas about certain diseases. Presently Ebola is still a pandemic in many nations, as people keep on spreading this virus, because they are not well inclined on how to prevent the spread of this disease.
If a society want to implement any public health policy it would be advisable for them to take into consideration the level of the population’s literacy and try to make the explanation as plain as possible, because funny as it may seem, these policies are written in ways that are so ambiguous for the population to understand. Having health policies but having no idea on how to apply it, because the society can’t read and do it , is just like having nothing; because when the basis of something is not understood, the use won’t be evident.
About the author
Ms Ude Ucha Kalu is a medical student from the Federal University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is also a hobbyist writer and blogger and she likes doing sports and debating.