Health Literacy Network
The World Health Organisation reports that non-communicable diseases, primarily cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are a leading cause of mortality worldwide. Of the 57 million deaths that occurred globally in 2008, 36 million (63%) were attributable to non-communicable diseases (WHO Global status report on non-communicable diseases 2010). At the same time, health literacy is increasingly recognised as a key determinant of health with growing evidence that lower health literacy is independently associated with higher rates of morbidity and mortality, poorer health knowledge, greater medication errors and higher hospitalization rates (US Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality 2011). Levels of health literacy are lowest among socially disadvantaged groups. These same populations have higher rates of preventable non-communicable diseases, and experience greater difficulties accessing health services and managing their health conditions. Improving health literacy has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a key strategy for improving the health of disadvantaged populations and tackling health inequalities in developed and developing countries.
This WUN research collaboration aims to develop a sustainable research program focused on improving non-communicable disease prevention and control among disadvantaged populations. It is the first 'health literacy' research initiative of its kind, bringing together a global, multi-disciplinary team of researchers and patient representatives from a range of disciplines (e.g. public health, medical/health psychology, occupational therapy, nursing, and health informatics), expertise (e.g. health literacy, e-health communication technologies, intervention development and evaluation, and patient-provider communication); and geographic locations (Africa, Australasia, Europe, US, Canada).
As part of the WUN Global Public Health Conference held in Southampton in May 2012, the Health Literacy Network held their first workshop to generate ideas about collaborative projects across the network. This initial meeting resulted in five working research groups, centred on the following themes:
- Health literacy conceptual and priority issues
- Health literacy in an age of digital communication
- Health literacy and health inequalities
- Integrating health literacy into health professional training
- Participatory approaches to health literacy research
In collaboration with the Academic Medical Centre at the University of Amsterdam, the network held its third international workshop on 27 September 2014. The aim of the meeting was to further develop international multidisciplinary research collaboration in the previously generated themes. Key presentations focused on the relatively unexplored themes: ‘Health literacy in an age of digital communication’ and ‘Participatory approaches to health literacy research’. Already established project groups presented their progress and future plans. New ideas and research plans were developed in collaborative workshops.