“Helping people and community to be health literate is enabling and empowering people to be confident, informed and engaged in decisions that influence the determinants of their health and wellbeing,” says Sione Tu’itahi, HPF’s executive director.
Mr Tu’itahi says with this month being Health Literacy Month it is the perfect time to highlight the issue of health literacy in New Zealand.
More than 50 per cent of adult New Zealanders have poor health literacy skills according to the Ministry of Health’s report, Kōrero Mārama (2010). which sourced data from the 2006 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey. Māori had poorer health literacy skills compared to non-Māori with 80 per cent of Māori males and 75 per cent of Māori females found to have poor health literacy skills.
According to The Asian Network Inc. – TANI migrants and former refugees also faced more challenges because of the language barrier, lack of understanding of the health system, and different experiences from their home countries. “Therefore, we need to support individuals and communities to give more attention to improve their health literacy level.”
Mr Tu’itahi points out that health literacy is a cornerstone of modern health promotion, especially when it is done together with building healthy public policies, creating supportive environment, community action, and reorienting health services.
“Young people in New Zealand and across the world are advocating for the health of the environment and its effect on their wellbeing because they are environmentally literate. That is the power of health literacy; people move to action when they are in the know,” he said.
HPF’s global partner the International Union for Health Promotion and Education’s Position Statement on Health Literacy: a practical vision for a health literate world calls for global action to improve health literacy in populations.
The Statement positions health literacy as an important and modifiable social determinant of health, that plays a significant role in broadly-based strategies for health promotion and emphasises the necessity of a systems approach to health literacy, underpinned by global, national, regional and local policies.
The theme for Health Literacy Month which is “Be a Health Literacy Hero”. is about taking action and finding ways to improve health communication. Health Literacy Heroes are individuals, teams, or organisations who not only identify health literacy problems but also act to solve them.
Since 1999, organisations around the world have been observing October as Health Literacy Month. It’s a time to bring attention to the importance of making health information easy to understand — and making the health care system easier to navigate.
The Waitemata DHB also celebrates health literacy month and plans to facilitate the 2nd health literacy symposium at the North Shore Hospital on October 31.