Nov 8, 2017 in Opinion

Combating Illiteracy

Ways in which functional health illiteracy can be overcome among adults in Jamaica

In the recent time, the need to promote the relevant health information among the adults has become a critical area of focus to the Jamaican governments as well as the stakeholders. It is clear that, health consumers face many challenges in their quest to seek health information (Nielsen-Bohlman, Panzer & Kindig (2004). These challenges include complexities of the health systems, increasing burdens of chronic diseases, the need of engaging partners in the health care, proliferation of information to the customers, which can be accessed from diverse and numerous sources among others. Further, it should be noted that in Jamaica, adult health illiteracy is a prevailing problem that limits health workers and other professionals in the medical field to treat and take care of the adults suffering from chronic diseases (Ofri, 2011). Most people experience symptoms of such diseases, but treat them as other common illnesses using over-the-counter medication. In order to curb severe and usually fatal effects of such chronic diseases, professionals need to identify causes of the high health illiteracy levels in the Jamaican society and give recommendations of eradicating these challenges through educating adults, health workers and proper communication.

As indicated by Nielsen-Bohlman, Panzer & Kindig (2004) health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions”. In this context, the term capacity refers to the innate potentials possessed by an individual as well as the skills which they have (Nielsen-Bohlman, Panzer & Kindig, 2004) As a result of the fact that, adult health illiteracy is such a prevailing challenge in health sector, the health departments continue to initiate in health literacy as a way of ensuring the effectiveness of health care delivery. Nutbeam (2006) argues that, by addressing literacy in health sector, it becomes potential for patients to fully understand as well as act according to their individual interests, a factor which highly improves quality care in a country. Generally, by reducing disparities in healthcare through improving literacy levels, costs incurred is reduced. Nutbeam (2006) argues that, in the recent years, a considerable amount of attention has been directed towards analyzing ways in which health determinants as well as to definitions of outcomes linked with promotion activities in healthcare. There are various methods, of overcoming functional health illiteracy among adults in Jamaica.

First, there is the need to increase the level of health promotion through the adoption of health promotion outcome model (See appendices 1) in Jamaica. The health promotion outcome model helps to distinguish various levels of outcomes (Nutbeam, 2006). This model is significant due to the fact that at the end, stages of interventions are expressed in terms of quality of life, functional independence, mortality among other factors. Nutbeam (2006) indicates that health promotion outcomes indicate those social, structural and personal factors, which can be easily modified to make changes to determinants in health. It is clear that, by using this model in Jamaica, health communication and education will become a notable area in health promotion. This is due to the fact that, these two areas significantly highlights health literacy as the main outcome from the health education.

The use library outreach programs are the other way in which functional health illiteracy can be overcome among adults in Jamaica. These can be carried out through various means such as through education programs towards health literacy, message design programs, strategic communication training as well as intervention programs and library outreach. Parker and Kreps (2005) argue that, educational programs can serve as a long-term solution to this challenge. For instance, libraries of the colleges, schools, clinics and hospitals are part of the educational institutions engaging in offering health-related education in order to increase the public’s knowledge on the same. These facilities offer the long-term solution to the listening, speaking, writing and reading challenges associated with health illiteracy. They also offer theories and practical work that guide the learners to differentiate between societal issues and personal issues relating to health (Parker and Kreps, 2005).

By developing message design, libraries in Jamaica can easily translate medical vocabulary into more understandable information to the public. This involves transforming the message from written to oral or visual in order to make it more understandable and accessible. It also incorporates engaging the public to contribute to ways into which they might understand the information. Through intervention, training and strategic communication should indicate how health workers in Jamaica should deal with should handle adults who are illiterate in the area of healthcare.  This involves assessing the challenges encountered by a community including people’s shame because of their inability to tackle health information. Additionally, the programs focus on the health workers only, thus improving the health workers’ ability of handling the public. Furthermore, the techniques used are not common in the classroom scenarios; for example, slowing down, the use of simple language, the use of demonstrations and other tactics to make the learning process easier and more understandable than usual. Generally, by adopting these library outreach programs, functional health illiteracy can significantly be reduced, since the targeted group can be able to access information from those programs and the internet.

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