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World leaders in Davos: invest in health literacy

These days the World Economic Forum takes place in the mountain area of Davos. World leaders are gathering to discuss the current state of the world and how to improve it. As part of the efforts they also consider how to shape the future of health and healthcare. By 2050, the world's population is expected to rise 9.7 billion, with 2 billion over the age of 60. However, the global health and healthcare system is still not equipped to deal with this demographic transformation. A proposal is to bring together the public and private sectors to catalyze opportunities to accelerate the development towards a more sustainable situation.

My proposal is to invest in health literacy.

Previously, research has revealed that 3-5% of healthcare costs are due to lack of health literacy equivalent to $65 billion USD in the American health system. Studies in Europe and Asia have estimated the scale of the problem being as large as in North America, so economically the burden of health literacy is enormous across the globe.

What can policy-makers and celebrities do in Davos?

Policy-makers and celebrities need to recognize that the health and well-being of a population are vital contributors to the social and economic development of societies. The advancement of health literacy is equally a part of corporate social responsibility as of good governance. Being advocates for improving health literacy they can help highlight that:

  • Every person has an equal and inherent right to accurate, understandable, and culturally appropriate health information and services.

  • Life-long learning is a fundamental ingredient for health literacy.

  • Improving health literacy is a responsibility to be shared among multiple sectors.

  • Creating opportunities for innovation and making use of all available evidence-informed strategies are both critical to success.

  • The health work will be approached with integrity and will uphold the honest, fair and respectful treatment of all people.

  • Financial and social accountability is paramount at all times.

Notably, a starting point for decision-makers can be:

  • To identify priorities and organize them into a comprehensive framework for improving health literacy in a certain country, region, city etc. incl. vision, mission and values.

  • To recommend a set of actions to be taken at the national, provincial/territorial and local levels for the purpose of increasing health literacy among the population in a certain area.

  • To facilitate conversations amongst practitioners, researchers and policy makers about health literacy and encourage cross-sectoral work around health literacy initiatives.

  • To identify incentives and encouraging factors that can support the integration of health literacy into policy, practice, research and education.

  • To evaluate and consistently monitor the progress of advancing health literacy.

Essentially, health literacy political priority areas include to:

  • Develop national and local strategies that strengthen health policy.

  • Make standards for health literate organizations part of quality management and leadership.

  • Adopt a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional approach to building health literacy at all levels and in the various kinds of societal settings.

I am hopeful that at some point the world leaders, when they realize the size of the impact, will call for action to solve the paramount problems related to what is called "the silent epidemic" in the world. Health literacy is a political choice.

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