All of us have been patients at some point - or are going to be patients. Being ill can be scary, because you no longer have any control over what is going to happen to you. Are you going to get better? Will you need hospitalisation? Will surgery help? Can you afford the medical bills? Will you die?
Being diagnosed with a serious illness is like being dropped into a foreign country: you don't know the language, you don't understand the culture, you don't have a map and you desperately want to find your way home. Health literacy can act as a guide, to help you navigate through the maze of doctors, specialists, hospitals and health insurance clerks, so that you can recover quickly, with as few scars as possible.
However, health literacy is not just a useful tool to use when you are sick. It is everyone's business - it crosses multiple boundaries, professions and jurisdictions. All of us have a stake in improving health literacy, because everyone benefits when people are healthier, and people are more likely to be healthy when they are health literate. This is true whether you are the CEO of a company and want to improve the productivity of your employees by providing them with health coaching; or you want to ensure your children are on a nutritious diet; or if you have domestic help at home and need to be sure they do not suffer from contagious diseases such as TB.
Improving health literacy among Indians is a complex , interesting and ambitious initiative that requires dedication, commitment and collaboration. A joint effort launched by multiple partners at all levels is required. There is little point in blaming patients for being ignorant about their health; or complaining about doctors who don't have time to educate patients; or lamenting how little the government does to address these issues. We cannot expect a top-down solution - a bottom up approach, one person at a time, will work better in tackling this situation. All of us can contribute to improving health literacy in this country !
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