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Health literacy can make Ugandans their own advocates for a better life

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Added 24th August 2016 06:24 PM

Todate, this culture continues to happen in all health centres in both the urban and rural settings

Health literacy can make Ugandans their own advocates for a better life

Todate, this culture continues to happen in all health centres in both the urban and rural settings

When I was still growing up, I fell sick and would be taken to hospital. But then, I would see health workers take "notes", as my parents told them about my condition. Thereafter, I would be taken to the pharmacy to get medication I was prescribed for. I am sure, in all of those events that coerced me to hospital, I could not read to understand what exactly I was suffering from, and therefore could not contextualize my prescription.

Todate, this culture continues to happen in all health centres in both the urban and rural settings. Be it national referral hospitals or the health centres in the remote countryside, the poor treatment has been attributed to the fact that patients and their attendants fail to read and interpret notes and labels on medical prescription correctly.

In some incidences, people either forget to take the dosage or may take less/more of the dosage while others may decide not to complete what was prescribed by the health workers. In this regard, there is an apparent disconnect between health information and actual health practices. This challenge also compromises Ugandans in their freedom in making informed health choices, and their opportunities to embrace their better health lives.

With low health literacy, people feel no sense of autonomy, self-confidence, and strength to implement health practices. This could also possibly explain why discrimination against women remains prevalent as they cannot negotiate equality in society where affirmative action has been devoted.

Females as a result suffer sexual harassment, coerced into transactional sex thereby exposing them to what would be otherwise preventable health problems. Compounded with rejection, ladies eventually are live a life of bad health choices. As we strive to embrace action to achieve success with the SDGs, Uganda is among those states still crumbling with vulnerable populations. Our health is among the world's worst with a high global disease burden, yet a meagre number of health workers have to serve a myriad patient population.

Even with so much commitment and input into health education across the country, non-communicable diseases, (NCDs), as well as new HIV infections burgeon significantly. The health wellbeing of the population remains worrisome in our low-income economy ultimately contributing to high rates of mortality.

In my view, low literacy on health issues among Ugandans has been the reason why Uganda's health efforts have been unproductive. The transmission of health information to the masses has botched to convert into health literacy for a good health life for Ugandans.

As much as we could appreciate that patients can identify symptoms of diseases and list certain foods to eat or avoid, space remains to be filled to enable them to abstract and appreciate factors of risk, causes and treatment of diseases, not overlooking the psychological and physiological effects.

It is evident that significant barriers to access, understanding, and use of literacies especially in the rural communities hamper care, treatment and management of preventable diseases. Some health lifestyle modification messages transmitted over the mainstream and traditional media are ineffective.

Instead, they are misperceived and end up frustrating the health consumers (some do not reach out to the remote countryside as media infrastructure is limited to urban settings). In the rural communities, health knowledge is highly threatened by paranormal perceptions which reinforce health ignorance thereby underutilizing the health system and increasing the health risk for Ugandans. As with health service provision, low health literacy levels stem from poor work environments, poor remuneration, lack of growth opportunities and motivational incentives. With a huge workload, some health workers throw away their integrity and professionalism to the gutters.

It is has to be noted that, with the continuous evolving discovery for cures for diseases, time between which such new health innovations take to reach out to the health workers and the people (especially rural communities-as they have no access to improved communication technologies, including internet). In my view, to have a better health for Ugandans, we can commit to transmitting information, as well as training various life skills to the community people related to their personal and community health.

Health information should capacitate people to be their own drivers/agents, who can actively pursue healthy choices and lifestyles and negotiate the world of health care, given the particular context of the health life.

The outcome of the sensitization campaign should motivate people to actively embody and perform on these health skills and knowledge. Progress in health would be recorded when Ugandans can freely, willingly, when needed and confidently act appropriately to improve personal lifestyles and community health conditions. In my submission, health literacy would grant women freedom of choice as to when and with whom they could engage intimately; so that they can if they want to abstain.

Ronald Twinamasiko Email:

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