The World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Office (WHO-WPRO) recently conducted a health literacy training in partnership with Deakin University’s Prof. Richard Osborne. This training lasted for two days and involved the key stakeholders from the Department of Health, along with organizational representatives of institutions spearheading health literacy initiatives in the Philippines. EpiMetrics, Inc. was privileged to take part in the training as we are currently in our first year of applying the OPHELIA (Optimizing Health Literacy) process in the Philippines. This process was designed by WHO, Deakin University, and Monash University, and it focuses on health literacy needs assessment of communities, co-creation of interventions with the community, and implementation evaluation of those interventions with the community.

From left to right: Dr Clarissa Encisa, Research Associate, Technical Services Cluster; (back) Dr Jason Ligot, Consultant, Health Promotion and Communications, NCD, HQ; (front) Ms Maria Victoria Madura, Health Education and Promotion Officer III (HPCS); Ms Aurora Banda-Alfonso, Health Education and Promotion Officer III (HPCS); Ms. Frances Onagan; Professor Richard Osborne, Director of the Health Systems Improvement Unit, WHO Collaboration Centre for Health Literacy, Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia; Dr. Faith Alberto, Department of Health (DOH) Health Promotion and Communication Services Director; Dr Maria Carmela Mijares-Majini, Consultant, NCD and Health Promotion (DNH); Dr Stephanie Anne Co, Co-Investigator from EpiMetrics, Inc.; Ms Abigail Lim, OPHELIA Implementer and Qualitative researcher from EpiMetrics, Inc.; Dr. Ma. Carmen Tolabing, Chairperson, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of the Philippines, Manila

Abby’s Insights

As one of the organizational representatives from EpiMetrics sent to the training, it was heartwarming to hear that the Philippines is one of the few countries taking huge steps towards improving health literacy needs of the people. So what is health literacy and how is it different from health education?

When I first learned about Health Literacy and its potential, it felt like an important piece of the health system puzzle was finally pointed out. It is more than just health education because in measuring a person’s health literacy, you go beyond just the functional type of literacy, which is knowing how to read and understand words. You also measure the person’s ability to access those information that he or she needs, the critical ability to discern which information is good and should be applied, and the ability to apply it to take care of not just the individual’s own health and well-being, but also that of the people that he or she is capable of influencing.

It was like an “aha!” moment for me, especially when faced with applying the knowledge, since there are many factors that could affect the person’s final decision in taking care of his or her health. I experienced this first-hand when I was going through the process of getting diagnosed for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It was a decision that I had been putting off for so many years, due to several reasons. Some of these included a lack of knowledge on the disease, financial concerns, not knowing where to start asking for help for a complicated disease that health centers couldn’t address, and the emotional stress of knowing that something’s wrong and it’s getting worse. These are the kinds of difficulties that other people face that cannot really be solved by just providing clinics and hospitals with the necessary equipment to help them. These difficulties can also be specific to each person’s environment and community. These are the problems that health literacy interventions aim to address.

Improving health literacy needs is worth it, even if it takes cooperation and partnership with so many different stakeholders. Working with communities to solve these health literacy needs is necessary so that the government could get a clearer picture of what’s happening on the ground, to see if current policies for health service delivery are really effective. The voices of the community would also be well-represented through the process, and local wisdom could contribute in the innovation of solutions that can be based upon existing assets of the community. In order to make sure that the health literacy foundation we are developing through these initiatives will be stable, we need to build and maintain these bridges between the local and national stakeholders.

Read about Steph’s Insights here.

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