Identify one issue within the concepts of health literacy and cultural awareness. Also, explain the differences between health literacy and cultural awareness. (Demonstrate how these might lead you to a different type of awareness.) Discuss how cultural differences in beliefs and attitudes may influence your selected public health issue. Expand on your insights utilizing the Learning Resources.
A brief description of which element of the planning process is most valuable in developing a public health campaign and explain why. Then describe one factor (individual, environmental, financial, etc.) that may facilitate and one factor that may inhibit the planning of your public health campaign and explain why.
Health literacy and cultural awareness are two distinct phenomena. Health literacy is the extent to which categories of people, including at the national level, have access to basic information on health issues, understand those issues, and are possessed of the intellectual wherewithal to act upon that information. Cultural awareness refers to the distinctions between ethnic and religious groups with regard to common (within those individual groups) perceptions of health issues and medical care. An example of cultural awareness is the requirement on the part of health care workers servicing a community predominately represented by immigrants from a particular less-developed country where history or customs have resulted in distrust of public health workers to understand that history and to adapt methodologies accordingly. A community comprised of families from a region where government was perceived as corrupt and malevolent is likely to view with suspicion entreaties from public health workers in their new country of residence irrespective of fundamental distinctions between the old and new countries. Similarly, within the United States, there are categories of individuals, families and communities that hold to religious beliefs that preclude the provision of medical care common to the rest of the country.
When designing a public health campaign for particular communities, then, government officials and medical practitioners must be sensitive to the unique cultural distinctions that may be present. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a website that emphasizes the importance for public health workers to recognize potential cultural barriers to the provision of essential health care – a particularly vital issue with the extent of the current outbreaks of haemorrhagic viruses like Ebola. The HHS study notes the following with regard to cultural barriers to public health work:
“Across all three states, fears of mistreatment and deportation deterred immigrants from seeking public assistance. Despite federal guidance that clarified only those who would be receiving benefits were required to provide Social Security numbers, it appears that some agencies were requesting SSNs from "non-applicant" parents seeking benefits on behalf of their applicant U.S.-citizen children. When asked for SSNs, these non-applicant immigrant parents feared that showing up at a public agency to apply for benefits on behalf of their U.S.-citizen children would expose them to immigration enforcement authorities and result in deportation. For those who were lawfully present and had a qualified or protected status, the fear remained because many lived in mixed-status families where another family member was unauthorized.”
The United States is an immigrant country with a huge issue of illegal immigration compounding the country’s national security and public health burdens. That most of these immigrants come from countries with substandard health care and corrupt and/or autocratic governments presents an enormous challenge for public health officials in the United States. Addressing these issues is, obviously, no easy task. Two vital measures, however, involve communications and access. It is incumbent upon governments at the local, state and federal level to reach out to these distrustful communities to communicate the importance of health care and to assist in making health care available – an enormous challenge in the best of times, but a seemingly insurmountable challenge in the current budgetary and political environments. That, then, is the inhibiting factor involved in this discussion: the financial burden on the American taxpayer of providing health care for millions of illegal immigrants. The United States is struggling with health care reform for citizens currently receiving health care; expanding those efforts to millions of additional undocumented people is beyond the scope of most peoples’ perceptions. The threat posed by highly contagious diseases, however, does not allow for the neglect of those millions of undocumented people. With the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and the growing threat of viruses like Ebola, ignoring the problem is not a luxury we have. Public health awareness campaigns and the provision of resources necessary to treat all individuals is a national imperative.