Health literacy: What’s in it for you?

A crucial provision in the Health Promotion Framework Strategy in the Philippine Development Plan for 2023-2028 is devoted to developing and protecting capabilities of families. One of the most important strategies in order to promote human and social development is to boost health. It is fundamental to the current administration’s socio-economic agenda, as well as to the Filipinos’ long term aspirations and vision, as reflected in the National Economic and Development Authority’s Ambisyon Natin 2040.

In a nutshell, it is the government’s aim “to become healthy, smart, and innovative people,” and in order for us to achieve this, we must live “long and healthy lives in livable communities with enough opportunities for high-quality lifelong learning.” Read that again, and again. At first it sounds like a whole lot of fluff, but what can we do to break this down to make it more doable? Will becoming health literate bring us to this tall order of a goal? 

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines health literacy as the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. On the organizational level, it is defined as the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. It is our ability to interpret, then act on the health information we receive, as in the case of the worldwide 2020 coronavirus pandemic. By the definition alone, it’s pretty clear that the goal is attainable with the cooperation of the citizens and the government. 

If anything, the pandemic has trained us to be health literate, and has become our template for future health emergencies we might face. Ideally, it would have also helped the Filipinos to develop a degree of trust in the local health system and our health professionals. The tricky part which the common Filipino needs to understand is that it still boils down to looking out for ourselves as individuals, and eventually our families. Hopefully, the magnitude of the scale of this pandemic that we’ve experienced has taught us to become more health literate, and not to let our guard down, in the health situations we might be facing from now on. What’s important is that we invest on what we’ve learned from all of these, and be sure to apply health literacy in the practical, everyday setting.

On the part of the national government, here are some of the strategies that have been laid out to enable healthier behavior and choices:

  • Ensure communities, workplaces, and schools support physical, mental, and social well-being for all
  • Foster a whole-of government, whole-of-society approach to health. Simply put, this means that government agencies should be able to develop policies and programs with the welfare of the society in mind, in order to achieve our shared goals. 
  • Access to quality and efficient health care system is improved, and strengthened

On the individual, citizen level, here are some practical steps we can take to improve our own health literacy, as soon as we receive important health information:

  • Make an effort to be informed, but only from trusted sources. In a previous entry on digital literacy, we’ve learned to never accept the internet as the gospel truth without proper verification. Unfortunately, a lot of us have been guilty of this habit. We cannot afford to risk the same with health literacy. It's crucial that we only work with trusted messengers and educators when it comes to getting and sharing health information.
  • Taking down notes is very important, especially if we are to pass on this information to the people important to us, such as our friends and family. This can also prove to be very useful if we are to communicate with our healthcare providers about this.
  • Repeat the information to our healthcare providers and trusted family specialists in order for us to have an opportunity to correct any misconceptions or miscommunication on the spot.
  • When in a doctor’s appointment, it is also helpful to bring a second person, such as a trusted friend or family member to chime in. Especially if you’re worried about missing out on important details they might discuss, a second pair of eyes and ears could be useful.

The government can only do so much so it really should start with us Filipinos. For the longest time, a lot of us, especially the underprivileged and those who are uneducated have this sense of entitlement when it comes to enjoying government goods and services. This can be very tricky. We are all at the receiving end of the important health information that our healthcare professionals, and the media bring out to the public. Part of being health literate is being responsible with how we use this information, in order for us to benefit from it. 


By Richard Lyle Diño

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