Mon | Jul 23, 2018

Health literacy key for all Jamaicans

Published:Saturday | February 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM


It is quite unfortunate that when we speak about literacy and all its variations, we tend to overlook health literacy.

Health literacy is the extent to which an individual has 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 has still not reached 100 per cent literacy. This sad reality has devastating long-term consequences, especially on the elderly, the subset often inflicted and impacted by lifestyle diseases.

The inability to read oftentimes puts one's health in jeopardy, as the individual will not have the necessary literacy and numeracy skills to, for example, understand nutrition labels or read doctor's instructions regarding how to administer medication. Additionally, the measurement of medication, as well as how one calculates and understands one's blood-sugar and blood-pressure readings, requires numeracy skills. In too many instances, many patients end up taking the wrong dosage of medication, either by overdosing or by taking less than the required amount because they are illiterate. Either way, the individual does not benefit.

Sadly, 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. There needs to be more public education targeting especially our elderly, who, along with the very young, are most vulnerable in the society.


Non-governmental organisations and other interest groups need to do more outreach in respect to targeting illiteracy in our nation. Our churches need to engage the elderly more in assisting them in areas of their health. While it is commendable that a number of churches have embarked on having health fairs and other events that 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 that requires our attention, as it is the bloodline through which the solutions towards sustainable development will be achieved.