Editorial comment – Health literacy

Minister for Health and Medical Services Rosy Akbar. Picture: SUPPLIED/FILE

MINISTER for Health and Medical Services Rosy Akbar raised an important point when she requested participants at the Pacific Society for Reproductive Health symposium to consider challenges people faced when it came to reproductive health care.

A major challenge is health literacy, or the lack of it among many Fijians. People need information, she said, to make informed choices.

It does place a critical tag on the need to raise awareness on what she described as the hard-to-reach population, and to raise awareness on reproductive health services.

There are competing priorities among our target population, she said; “We need to improve our health promotion and social mobilisation strategies to improve uptake of reproductive health services.

“Sometimes we think of the hard-to-reach as only the ones who are isolated and far from us, but the reality is there are also the hard-to-reach who are very close to us who need information, direction and options to make healthy choices, therefore we need to be more accessible and user-friendly to our clients.”

Participants were encouraged to be agents of change.

While the minister did raise the issue of reproductive health care, on a broader scale, poor literacy skills could obviously negatively impact people who seek medical attention.

It makes sense then that people with little to inadequate knowledge of health-related matters are at a loss.

The issue does raise the question of how much information is vital for people to make informed decisions. Perhaps we should consider the notion that adequate knowledge could improve the wellbeing of patients.

They can become proactively engaged in their own upkeep, and effectively adhere to recommendations by their doctors.

They will obviously have a better understanding and grasp of requirements and the reasons for proactive action quite early.

In the long term, it does make a positive impact on their health status. Understandably being loaded with information from doctors and medical personnel can be overwhelming for some patients.

Some may have doubts and a sense of helplessness and uncertainty. Perhaps they are unable to decipher information imparted by health professionals to enable them to deal with their own sicknesses, or to take corrective action.

So how do we deal with this? Awareness campaigns perhaps? Better communication between health professionals and patients? Or as the minister said, being more accessible and user-friendly?

We agree that health literacy could play a critical role in the improvement of health in our nation.

It is an important part of the health process.

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