Literacy is the individual’s ability to read and write and the degree to which a person can apply these skills to function in society, learn and achieve goals. Health literacy specifically refers to one’s ability to obtain, process and understand health information and services to make appropriate health decision.
The Health Literacy programme grew from the civic education on health programme which was rose out of the deterioration of key social indicators during the 1990s. Demand for information and participation from by civic groups in 1998 on a range of public health, health systems and organizational issues saw the birth of this programme.
The Health Literacy Programme aims to consolidate the work done through the Civic Education programme, identifying and filling gaps, as well as introduce innovative processes and concepts into the work. It is a regional programme of work in East and Southern Africa being coordinated by TARSC Zimbabwe.
It operates in Zimbabwe (CWGH), Malawi (MHEN) and Botswana (BFTU) to support the development and use of participatory health education materials for health civil society. Health facilities are realizing the importance of health literacy and are starting to develop health literacy programmes to address the difficulties that patients have in obtaining and understanding health information, to equip civil societies in selected communities with the skills they need to assess quality of service delivery at their health institutions. For example, CWGH and TARSC have partnered with the Zimbabwe Association of Church related Hospitals (ZACH) to build health literacy in health centre committees in clinics in two ZACH districts.
The programme has the capacity to increase level of knowledge of communities around health facilities on quality health services responsive to their needs. The work also facilitates and supports the establishment of mechanisms of community participation, such as Health Centre Committees (HCCs), district chapters and Health Advisory Boards (HBAs). TARSC with CWGH trained a total of 60 CWGH facilitators from the Northern and Southern Region of Zimbabwe that are implementing Health literacy community programmes in 20 CWGH districts in Zimbabwe.
The CWGH Zimbabwe has begun work around resuscitating community health committees in districts through reviving the Health Centre Committees and linking them with the Health Literacy facilitators in the districts under the programme, Strengthening Health Centre Committees : Enhancing Community Participation in Health. Health Centre Committees (HCC) are vehicles through which communities can participate in primary health care (PHC) and district health systems (DHS).
The work being done under the health Literacy programme facilitates and supports the establishment of mechanisms of community participationHealth literacy campaigns have been held at both the district and national level while more the community Health Literacy training has reached more than 3500 people and has capacity to multiply in the new political dispensation. CWGH has campaigned for Health literacy as a means to attaining some of the Millenium Development Goals and in driving the primary health care, and organizing people’s power for health at the CWGH 15th annual conference held in October 2008.