[Dateline: New York | Author: Department of Economic and Social Affairs]
The outbreak of human cases of H1N1 influenza has brought to the fore not only the need to formulate an effective response but also the importance of promoting health literacy in devising effective public health policy.
Health literacy is relatively low worldwide, both in developed and developing countries, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang said today in Beijing.
"By helping people to navigate the health system, to engage in self-care and to participate in community action for health, improved health literacy can lead to health gains," Mr. Sha stated at the opening of the United Nations Asia-Pacific Regional Ministerial Meeting on "Promoting Health Literacy."
Discussions at the two-day Beijing meeting will address access to and the efficient use of health information and will also assess best practices that demonstrate the impact of literacy in public health.
"The task of improving health literacy clearly cannot be tackled by the health sector alone," Mr. Sha noted, adding that "empowering people to acquire and understand health information and prepare them to take adequate measures is a process, in which members of the education sector, the media, ICT and the business sector, among others also need to be involved."
Improving access and the use of information and communications technology (ICT) has become the driving force in health literacy worldwide. It empowers people to acquire better health conditions through improved health literacy. The Beijing event will also address the current level of use of ICT. Participants will look into the role of the press in the Asia Pacific region in empowering people to better health.
Mr. Sha briefed more than 150 government ministers, health experts, policy makers, NGOs and business representatives on the region’s progress in public health, particularly towards achieving the three health-related Millennium Development Goals.
Mr. Sha noted that the region has made considerable headway in reducing the rates of infant mortality and under-five mortality during the last decade. He said that maternal mortality is still a major problem, and that the region is off track in combating HIV/AIDS.
ECOSOC President Sylvie Lucas, also present at the meeting, stressed that the regional consultation will contribute significantly to the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review (AMR), to be held in Geneva this July. "Understanding the impact of health literacy on the achievement of health goals, equity and development will help to advance the development agenda."
Ms. Lucas called on stakeholders and sectors to strengthen efforts in health literacy in the region and globally, highlighting that "this ability will lead people to not only change personal health behaviours and lifestyle choices but also improve their living conditions."
The Asia-Pacific Regional Ministerial Meeting was opened by Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu. Also addressing the event was the WHO Assistant Director-General Ala Alwan.
The meeting is hosted by the Government of China, and organized in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the World Health Organization(WHO) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).