Five years ago, Bill Gates warned us in a Ted Talk that the threat to human health would come from germs such as the coronavirus. He urged the global community to prepare for the 'germ war'. In contrast to the threat of war, where most countries have the military in place, Bill Gates explained that in the case of a contagious epidemic, his research had shown that we do not have a functional system in place to battle it. Indeed, he was right. At this stage, where the world actually suffers from a spread of the coronavirus and we are bracing for impact; it seems we are 'building the car while riding'. Much is developed from scratch and not all new developments to inform and reach the public are based on health literacy principles. Unfortunately.
Rise and shine
Never has the need for health literacy been so visible as in these times. Health communication has become an essential part of the news coverage, of people's lives, and of society at large. We redesign shops, schools, workplaces and parks with signage, protection shields and distance measurements. We change behaviour towards basic prevention and hygiene and stay at home to minimize the spread of the outbreak. We ask people to understand graphs to flatten the curve; medical terms to understand the virus and public health over personal freedom of choice. Health literacy is an essential key to ensure that the transformation happens in a way that people can follow and apply to.
It is time for us as health literacy experts to rise and shine. To help our colleagues to get the communication tailored and target to the relevant groups, design services so the patient journey makes sense, and engage communities in empowering activities to protect themselves and their neighbours. Health literacy proficiency should be an essential skill in any preparedness system we put in place now and in the future.
"Bolstering health literacy changes the focus from making the 'right' decision to enabling individuals to make the best choice according to their personal circumstances* - Nakayama Kazuhiro, Japan.