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Health literacy, key factor in MENA’s health outcomes with room to improve

Article-Health literacy, key factor in MENA’s health outcomes with room to improve

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Adopt a comprehensive approach to bridge existing gaps and lay the groundwork to create a healthier, more informed society.

Today, patients have to navigate complex healthcare systems and an overwhelming amount of health information. This makes health literacy incredibly crucial, which is the capacity to obtain, read, understand, and apply healthcare information to make informed decisions about their health and follow treatment instructions.

Health literacy is also important for enhancing healthcare outcomes. It is linked to better management of chronic conditions, higher medication adherence, and more efficient use of healthcare services, leading to significant cost savings by reducing hospital and emergency visits. Moreover, it plays a key role in promoting equitable access to healthcare, particularly for marginalised and underserved groups. Despite these benefits, the region faces economic and cultural hurdles in improving health literacy, prompting both private and public sectors to take action to close these gaps.

Cultural and socioeconomic divides in the MENA region significantly impact health literacy

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces unique challenges in improving health literacy due to its diverse languages and cultures. This diversity, while a cultural asset, complicates health literacy efforts significantly. Actions to translate and culturally adapt health information often encounter hurdles, making it difficult to ensure that health communications are both accessible and relevant to all populations within the region. This challenge is compounded by disparities in education levels, which vary widely across the region, particularly between rural and urban populations. Rural areas, often with lower access to education, are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to understanding and using health information, widening the gap in health literacy levels and, consequently, health outcomes.

Moreover, access to reliable and understandable health information is fraught with challenges, exacerbated by digital divides and the rampant spread of misinformation. In an age where information is readily available online, the digital divide in the MENA region means that not all populations have equal access to this wealth of information. Misinformation further muddies the waters, leading to confusion and potentially harmful health decisions. The complexity of health systems and the intimidating nature of healthcare terminology can further alienate patients, making it challenging for people to navigate their healthcare needs effectively. It emphasises the importance of creating easily accessible and equally important, understandable health resources for people to access. Additionally, socioeconomic status plays a critical role in health literacy, influencing the availability of resources to seek, comprehend, and use health information. Those with limited resources find themselves at a disadvantage, unable to fully engage with healthcare services or make informed health decisions.

Engaging the entire health ecosystem is crucial in enhancing health literacy in the region

Enhancing health literacy through partnerships with patient organisations presents a promising strategy to understand and address patient needs more effectively. Collaborations like these pave the way for a deeper insight into patient perspectives, leading to the creation of health information that is both accessible and relevant. Pfizer's initiative to facilitate open dialogues between healthcare professionals and patient groups exemplifies this approach, often catalysing actionable plans to produce patient-informed resources. The integration of digital health technologies, such as Pfizer's IUdo app, further amplifies this accessibility, simplifying patient engagement with healthcare resources and support programs. Available in Qatar, Egypt, and Lebanon, the app shows how technology can navigate complex healthcare systems, making vital services more approachable.

The journey towards improved health literacy extends beyond digital solutions, embracing community engagement through workshops, health fairs, and partnerships with local organisations to elevate awareness. Emphasising linguistic diversity by offering health information in various languages and dialects ensures broader accessibility. Additionally, ongoing training for healthcare providers is vital for enhancing their ability to communicate effectively, fostering trust and empowering patients to navigate the healthcare system with confidence.

As we strive to dismantle barriers to health literacy, especially in the MENA region, it is clear that both technological innovation and community engagement are pivotal. While challenges persist, the concerted efforts of healthcare professionals, organisations, and patients themselves are essential for fostering an environment where informed health decisions become the norm. This comprehensive approach not only bridges existing gaps but also lays the groundwork for a future where everyone can access and understand health information, creating a healthier, more informed society.

Patrick van der Loo
Patrick van der Loo is the Regional President, Middle East, Russia and Africa (MERA), Pfizer.

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