HIFA survey: Q7: More support is needed for health literacy (helping people find, understand and use healthcare information)

19 September, 2023

We now have 1298 survey responses! Please complete the survey and spread the word to your contacts: www.hifa.org/survey2023

Meanwhile, we can continue to discuss individual questions here on HIFA. This forum discussion will complement the survey as we compile a report for WHO.

Question 7 is:

Q7: More support is needed for health literacy (helping people find, understand and use healthcare information)

Do you strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, or strongly agree?

I would say 'strongly agree' to this question, but with a caveat.

WHO uses the following definition of health literacy:

“Health literacy implies the achievement of a level of knowledge, personal skills and confidence to take action to improve personal and community health by changing personal lifestyles and living conditions. Thus, health literacy means more than being able to read pamphlets and make appointments. By improving people’s access to health information, and their capacity to use it effectively, health literacy is critical to empowerment.” Health Promotion Glossary, 1998.


I would suggest that 'level of knowledge, personal skills and confidence' are all important, but insufficient to help people find, understand and use reliable healthcare information, and to differentiate such information from misinformation.

As an illustration, during the COVID-19 pandemic a relative of mine forwarded a COVID misinformation to me and others in my family, thinking that it was reliable information when in fact it was clearly misinformation. The message said... Notably the relative is a highly educated biosciences graduate. We have seen similar inadvertent spread of misinformation from the Nigerian ministry of health, indicating that even MoH experts are susceptible.

To me, this illustrates that health literacy alone is not enough, even if we were able to wave a magic wand and bring everyone to a high level of scientific education.

So, in addition to building personal aspects of health literacy we need tools to help people differentiate reliable information from misinformation. In addition we need mechanisms to make reliable information more visible and misinformation less visible. For example, Google says: 'We have teams of experts around the world working in the fight against misinformation. Their work focuses on ensuring that we provide users with high quality and trusted information, rewarding the publishers and creators who produce it, surfacing more authoritative sources and reducing the spread of borderline content and removing content that puts people at risk.' https://safety.google/intl/en_uk/stories/fighting-misinformation-online/

What do you think?

Best wishes, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: neil@hifa.org