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Concepts of Health Literacy and Cultural Awareness

Cultural and religious beliefs, lack of knowledge of the English language, and low health literacy are the three main factors that serve to create and enforce serious problems in the field of health communication and information. Over the last decade, medical workers started to address the factor of English proficiency (Singleton, Krause 2009). The problem caused by this issue is the fact that citizens of the United States that do not speak English cannot comprehend the public health information and due to that they fail to participate in public health programs.

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The individual’s ability to read or listen to the public health information and understand it properly, making logical conclusions and decisions, which lead to participation in the health care programs with a careful following of the instructions is called health literacy. Cultural awareness is the individual’s capacity to understand the values of the culture they belong to. The difference between these two concepts is determined by the fact that cultural customs do not always fit into the scientific understanding of the world around them. This is why cultural beliefs and ethnicity may influence health literacy in a negative way (Boyce, Holmes 2012). Lack of health literacy appears when the patients and people at risk do not have access to the important information (Learn about Health Literacy 2011).

The inconsistencies between the cultural customs, behaviors, religious beliefs, and scientific understandings may lead to serious problems. If some group of people is simply unaware of the risks they are undergoing through practicing certain types of behavior this may and will result in multiple patterns of health issues within the group (Vaccarella et al. 2006). Besides, the group has no chance of learning about the problems and dangers if its members do not receive any information about the growing health risks in their language.

Quickly spreading sexually transmitted diseases have been a serious problem in the world for a long time. These days lack of health literacy creates a serious negative impact on this issue. Cultural differences and beliefs serve as obstacles to HPV vaccination. Americans of Hispanic and Latin origin are more vulnerable to this virus due to the lack of English proficiency and education. Besides, groups, where infidelity is a frequent behavior, are also in great danger of receiving HPV. Moreover, the practice of religious exemptions supports health inequality in the society, because children, who never received the vaccination, can still go to school together with children that are waiting for their vaccine and are exposed to the disease (Parents Claim Religion to Avoid Vaccines for Kids 2007).

The researchers proved that Latina Immigrants in the United States are exposed to HPV and cervical cancer due to their cultural differences (Luque et al. 2010). In the United Kingdom, scientists observed that ethnicity and religious beliefs remain the factors that put people at risk of getting HPV. The research made in Denmark showed that “vaccination uptake should address attitudes, beliefs, subjective norms and habit strength” (Keulen et al. 2013). In order to solve this public health problem the communication between the medical workers and the potential patients, especially with the ones that belong to ethnic minorities, needs to be improved (Fernandez et al. 2009).

The definition of health literacy presented by CDC does not take into account cultural beliefs, behaviors, language issues, and remedies to which some individuals are accustomed. For example, the immigrants of Hispanic and Latin origin have the capacity to obtain and process basic health information, but their access to this information is limited. This does not mean that they do not have the literacy; the information is simply not presented to these social groups the way it should be.

It is the medical society’s duty to work out the ways of informing ethnic minorities about the risks they may be undergoing, available treatments and measures, and also the ways to make these people understand the importance of such information even through the perspective of cultural and religious beliefs.

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Reference List

Boyce T., & Holmes, A. (2012). Addressing Health Inequalities in the Delivery of the Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Program: Examining the role of the school nurse. PLoS ONE, 7(9), 1–8.

Fernandez, M. E., McCurdy, S. A., Arvey, S. R., Tyson, S. K., Morales-Campos, D., Flores, B.,… Sanderson, M. (2009). HPV Knowledge, Attitudes, and Cultural Beliefs among Hispanic Men and Women Living on the Texas-Mexico Border. Ethnicity and Health, 14(6), 607–624.

Learn about health literacy. (2011). CDC. Web.

Luque, J. S., Castañeda, H., Tyson, D. M., Vargas, N., Proctor, S., & Meade, C. D. (2010). HPV Awareness Among Latina Immigrants and Anglo-American Women in the Southern United States: Cultural Models of Cervical Cancer Risk Factors and Beliefs. NAPA Bulletin, 34(1), 84–104.

Parents Claim Religion to Avoid Vaccines for Kids. (2007). NBCNews. Web.

Singleton, K. & Krause, E. (2009). Understanding Cultural and Linguistic Barriers to Health Literacy.Online J Issues Nurs., 14 (3).

Vaccarella, S., Franceschi, S., Herrero, R., Muñoz, N., Snijders, P. J. F., Clifford, G. M.,… Meijer, C. J. L. M. (2006). Sexual Behavior, Condom Use, and Human Papillomavirus: Pooled Analysis of the IARC Human Papillomavirus Prevalence Surveys. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 15(2), 326–333.

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Van Keulen, H. M., Otten, W., Ruiter, R. A. C., Fekkes, M., van Steenbergen, J., Dusseldorp, E., & Paulussen, T. W. G. M. (2013) Determinants of HPV Vaccination Intentions among Dutch Girls and Their Mothers: A Cross-Sectional Study. BMC Public Health, 13, 111.

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