More and more people are talking about health literacy across the globe. Experts in medicine, government and public policy are continuing to expand their understanding of the incredible opportunity that increasing health literacy can have in improving health and health outcomes.

Some of the many challenging characteristics of global low health literacy populations include:

  • An inability to access information about medical or clinical topics
  • An inability to understand, evaluate and follow medical information
  • An inability to make good decisions about their health
  • An inability to locate and understand information about risk factors
  • An inability to follow basic instructions on treatments and care.

At the recent Health Literacy Conference presented by Wisconsin Literacy in Madison, Wisconsin, luminaries and academics in the area of health literacy met to discuss how to better address the global challenges and costs associated with low health literacy. In a panel led by the International Health Literacy Association (IHLA), the organization shared its goals and tactics for addressing this global issue.

“The International Health Literacy Association (IHLA) is a member-based association for professional development within the health literacy field. IHLA serves a diverse range of stakeholders, medicals, public health professionals, educators, as well as many others engaged in health literacy, research, policy, education and practice.”

While research is being conducted across the globe, there is currently little coordination of these efforts or even the sharing of critical data and findings. Not surprisingly, much of this research is carried out within very homogenous populations. This makes the global relevancy of any accumulated data a relatively complex topic.

The IHLA seeks to help in a number of ways:

  • Author and publish peer reviewed journals on the subject of health literacy research
  • Become the go-to aggregator of health literacy activities, projects and practices worldwide
  • Encourage cross-national collaboration
  • Become the “keeper” of health literacy’s best practices
  • Advocate for global health literacy awareness
  • Raise public awareness about the need to increase health literacy

The IHLA launched with meeting in North America, Asia and Europe. They are currently developing a schedule for upcoming meetings and initiatives. They are also forming work groups and creating a more formal organizational structure. Health professionals who wish to become involved can visit for more information.