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the ICESCR and ratified the UDHR. As a clear barrier to good health outcomes, the U.S. government’s negligence to improve limited health literacy is a violation of the human right to adequate health and healthcare. In addition, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 19 of the UDHR focus on the human right to freedom of opinion and expression, and “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” [6]. These covenants define the human right to ready access of information, which is vital for the knowledge and communication that health literacy requires. As a ratified country under both the ICCPR and UDHR, the United States has committed to making multiple levels of information, from the media to its healthcare providers, easily available and to all of its citizens. Thus, it is imperative that all U.S. citizens have easy access to information presented at a comprehensible level. Furthermore, Article 13 of the ICESCR and Article 26 of the UDHR ensure the human right “of everyone to education,” that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and that education shall enable and promote “all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups” [5]. These two covenants clearly promote the empowerment and fostering of knowledge and community that encompass the aims of health literacy. By considering these core international human rights covenants, it is evident that the U.S. has failed to uphold its commitment to human rights covenants in its widespread limited health literacy. There is an urgent need for U.S. governmental implementation of strong legislation and action that specifically address health literacy. The U.S. government 20


plays a vital role in promoting large-scale improvements in health literacy for its citizens and has the capacity to affect change, regulate, and monitor public health infrastructure and education on a large scale. Amidst a record of minimal to no action, the government has only recently begun to move in the right direction. The first piece of legislation introduced to the government that focused on health literacy was the proposal of the National Health Literacy Act in 2007. This legislation aimed to make health resources more available to researchers, healthcare providers and the public, sponsor projects and research dedicated in developing health literacy tools, and collaborate more with other governmental agencies [7]. However, the bill was not enacted and Congress did not pass it into law, most likely due to lack of a strong leadership and support in the Senate and urgency for this issue. The passing of this bill into law would have been a major step in the right direction; even so, the bill’s effectiveness was limited by its requirement for “at least one public meeting to help raise awareness about the problem of health literacy” for both the national Health Literacy Implementation Center and state resource centers [7]. This bill’s limitations lie in the fact that one or two meetings a year is not sufficient enough to address such a pressing issue, and that a lack of accountability can quickly form without consistent addressing of this issue. It was only in 2010 that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services first officially identified poor health literacy as a barrier to good health outcomes and included the decrease in gaps in health literacy in their Healthy People 2010 national objectives [8]. This addition of health literacy to the national health agenda demonstrates how this issue was brought into governmental recognition only very recently, which undoubtedly explains how many U.S. citizens have not yet recognized its prevalence and importance. Furthermore, while the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) focuses © 2016, The Triple Helix, Inc. All rights reserved.

Science in Society Review - Spring 2016  
Science in Society Review - Spring 2016