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Health Literacy and Cultural Awareness

Although many researchers agree that health literacy is a relatively new concept in the public health field, the success of public health programs greatly depends on health literacy levels in a community (Nutbeam, 2000; Hasnain, Menon, Ferrans, & Szalacha, 2014).

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The success of the colorectal outreach program depends on the same factor, because the health literacy levels of the target community would determine how well community members implement what they have learned from the program.

Since the program targets an urban population, its probability of success is better than if it targeted a rural population because health literacy levels in urban settings are higher than in most rural settings (Hasnain et al., 2014).

In this regard, members of the target population would better get, process, and understand information and services that relate to breast screening. This way, community members would make better health choices. Nonetheless, the support that would come from high levels of health literacy in the urban community would be contingent on individual and systemic factors.

While it is prudent to use the success of previous health programs to improve, or develop, future health programs, some of the issues borrowed from past health programs may fail to work in the contemporary setting (Baumann, DomenechRodrÍGuez, & Parra-Cardona, 2011).

Such is the case for the colorectal outreach program because some of the available outreach materials and protocols (used in past programs) may be inapplicable in the current setting. For example, the target population for the past program was college-educated white students, while the target population of the colorectal program is intercultural and interethnic.

Stated differently, the colorectal health program targets urban population, without educational or age bias. These differences show that, from a cultural awareness standpoint, the materials and programs used in the past outreach program may be irrelevant to the current program (Whaley & Davis, 2007).

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I believe every health situation is unique and requires unique public health approaches to realize success in health promotion. I have experienced this fact first-hand when developing a health promotion program that strived to prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa. I found that different communities have unique political, social and economic dynamics that, if ignored, could lead to the failure of a health program.

For example, I found that the kinds of foods that some West African communities ate contributed to the spread of Ebola. It would have been difficult to foresee such a causative factor if I used the design blueprint of a past public health program because it could overlook small, but pivotal, demographic dynamics of a community.

Therefore, in my experience, I find it difficult to replicate the design of public health programs (holistically) in different community settings.

The lessons I have learnt from my experience highlight the importance of collaborating with community stakeholders when developing or designing public health programs. Such collaborations are important because they help a public health worker to understand intricate community dynamics that would affect the success of health programs.

For example, they would help to explain a community’s attitudes towards health screening, dietary behaviors, nutrition styles, and exercising, as some of the factors that would form part of the colorectal health outreach program (Hasnain et al., 2014). Comparatively, outsiders would not have such perspectives.

Therefore, they are likely to oversee some of the cultural factors that would affect their health programs. As a public health administrator of the colorectal outreach program, I would collaborate with community leaders to improve my understanding of the target community’s cultural dynamics that would either support or impede the health program. This step would improve my efficiency in designing and implementing the program.


Baumann, A., DomenechRodrÍGuez, M., & Parra-Cardona, J. R. (2011). Community-Based Applied Research with Latino Immigrant Families: Informing Practice and Research According to Ethical and Social Justice Principles. Family Process, 50(2), 132-148 17p. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2011.01351.x

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Hasnain, M., Menon, U., Ferrans, C. E., &Szalacha, L. (2014). Breast Cancer Screening Practices Among First-Generation Immigrant Muslim Women. Journal of Women’s Health, 23(7), 602–612.

Nutbeam, D. (2000). Health literacy as a public health goal: a challenge for contemporary health education and communication strategies into the 21st century. Health Promotion International, 15(3), 259-267. doi: 10.1093/heapro/15.3.259

Whaley, A. L., & Davis, K. E. (2007). Cultural competence and evidence-based practice in mental health services: A complementary perspective. American Psychologist, 62(6), 563-574. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.62.6.563

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