Friday, February 13, 2009

Health Literacy – A Cry for Universal Health Care

Health care is now a business that rivals the industrial complex. Its major consumers are victims of lopsided capitalist principles that exploit weaknesses within our educational systems – mainly literacy. If literacy is at an all-time low in this country, health literacy must be virtually non-existent. But what does this mean? And more importantly, why should anyone care? These questions are made complicated by arguments that weave a moral blanket of hypocrisy which does not provide comfort – let alone security - to those most impacted by a poor health infrastructure. That is, too often we blame the sick for having sickness and the uneducated for not knowing when the real cause of either or both is mis-education combined with quests for power and, ultimately, control.

Literacy is not merely the act of reading and comprehending fragments of generic knowledge. It is a tool for understanding the constellation of knowledge that shapes our views of the world and defines our positions in it. Understanding who we are in terms of how our bodies work optimally is essential to securing a competitive advantage – particularly in a free-market economy. However, large swatches of the US population are disproportionately denied basic health needs such as potable water, adequate shelter, and access to basic health care - they do not have insurance or they have inadequate insurance which is poorly defined and, therefore, subject to intricate loopholes. The health literature is replete with epidemiologic data illustrating the link between access to basic health needs and illness while the health economic literature highlights the impact of sickness to the work force and societal growth. So wouldn’t it make sense to promote and support a healthy society if for no other reason than the well-being of our economy and securing a prosperous future? It does to me.

However, in order for this to happen we need to eliminate the barriers to access which includes class-based health insurance and, more importantly, advance a comprehensive education about the relationship of personal health to societal development. Yet, too often, we exert power by enacting laws on the basis of a sense of moral superiority; and we use oppressive means to control basic needs. This is best exemplified by the gross amounts of narcotics and pharmaceuticals that act to subdue harmless physiologic impulses and abolish the most basic human right – the right to health (as defined by the World Health Organization). Or, perhaps it is the intention of the powers-that-be to keep certain people ignorant and weak from poor health. What better way to control people than to continuously exploit their vulnerabilities while making them dependant on small acts of welfare disguised as generosity?

1 comment:

Helen said...

Hooray! Someone talking on Health Literacy.

I am part of a UK group attempting to raise this topic up the agenda for health.

If you consider health literacy in terms of the Ottawa Charter it is critical to all elements of health from the reorientation of health service (how many appointments for x-rays are missed because they are now held in the newly named "Imaging Department"), through to empowering personal change.

As a small part of this, I am involved in writing policy for patient engagement and reading age as a fundamental part of health communication in our department.

From small pebbles...