Literacy and health

According to the Xinhua News Agency, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the links between literacy and health in his International Literacy Day address on September 8.  The theme of the 2008 International Literacy Day is “Literacy is the Best Remedy.”

“Illiteracy has a direct impact on human health,” Ban said. “It prevents people from being able to read the instructions on a medicine bottle. […] It means that people are less likely to know facts about AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases.”

Ban noted that the problem is increased by the fact that the majority (two-thirds) of illiterate individuals are women and girls, “who often bear the burden of caring for sick members of their families.”  He also stressed the importance of literacy for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and for strong policies and investment to increase literacy. 

I’d also like to highlight a short UNESCO Courier editorial by Henning Mankell, an acclaimed Swedish novelist and advocate for health and education in Africa.  Mankell writes:

[M]illions of children are forced to enter life without knowing how to read and write. The fact that we deny so many children these elementary tools means that we render them defenseless on so many issues related to AIDS. How can we expect a young person who lacks the ability to understand written information, who is unable to grasp the essence of vital knowledge, to protect her- or himself from becoming infected? Of course people talk, of course there is radio. There are also theatrical groups who travel the country to inform people. But the fact remains that we live in a world where the ability to read is necessary to acquire information.

It is important to see this connection. One of the most crucial instruments for controlling the proliferation of AIDS in the future must be to make sure that every child is given the right to learn how to read and write.

According to UN global statistics, about one in five adults — 774 million people — cannot read or write, and about 75 million children do not have access to education.

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~ by h.e.g. on September 9, 2008.

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