The saying “You don’t know what you have till is gone”, is unequivocal in its description of the general attitude of people towards their health. The common man walks the streets, able to excel in his day-to-day activities, earning a living, networking with family, friends and colleagues alike, and yet, pays no heed to one simple reality: None of these would be possible, without optimal health!

This individual care-free attitude towards health and health care issues, stays manifest, in every aspect of our private lives and becomes even more deleterious, when individuals transition into public service. Consider this critically, and in line with the typical reactionary attitude to most issues, and indeed we can envision dire consequences.

When you take a look at most private lives, many large-scale private sector employers, do not offer healthcare benefits as part of their employment packages; many individuals do not have health insurance or health targeted savings of any kind; and even many more do not consider the health implications of their social habits. These are just a few examples, of private reactions to health and health care.

In the public sector, most environmental negotiations, do not consider the health implications of a lack of adequate mitigation of and adaptation to climate change; most leaders do not consider the health implications of going to war; very few countries have health budgets that are more than 10% of the total national budget; most countries do not have legislature that mandates inter-sectorial collaboration to improve health & wellbeing. Again, these are just a few examples.

Many of us got on board to read this, as yet another opportunity to point fingers at the failings of the government, on the issue of health and health care. We can lay it on governance and the public sector, all we like. They do have their many failings, most evident in the failure to sign the National health bill into law in Nigeria and to begin implementation.

The reality however, remains that those in leadership, have simply taken the lack of health literacy in their private lives, into public office. A change of leadership will most likely continue in the same trend. Even if the baton is handed to us today, our level of health literacy in our private life, will simply be translated into our dedication to health and healthcare improvement!

Health literacy is not just about one’s reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. It is especially about understanding particular health concepts and knowing what to do in particular circumstances. For example, if you are a parent and your young child is running a fever of 37.5°C, what should you do? Some know the answer to this question but, for individuals with poor health literacy, minor healthcare woes like this can be a tremendous challenge. Even more such examples exist for public health concepts.

It is no longer debatable, that corporate governance and organizational development can only be achieved through an enhanced and purpose driven youth participation in governmental business. However, for young people to take part in a demand for better consideration of health from the government, we, must come to terms with our need for optimal health and improved healthcare. We must also come to terms with the exact role of the individual and the role of the government, in improving health standards.

The biggest challenge then, is in engineering a paradigm shift among young people, and endowing us with a more health seeking behavior. This will in turn drive us to seek exact knowledge on basic health concepts. High levels of health literacy among young people, empowers us to engage our leaders and make proper demands for healthcare reform. It also ensures that this next generation of leaders, are better equipped to set up frameworks that improve health and healthcare.

According to the WHO, at the just concluded Rio+20 conference, “Health is not everything, but without health, the struggle for a better life is much, much harder”. If young people do not see how and vehemently agree that health is at the center of it all, then how can we expect the government to care? The government may not care, but it has a lot to do with the fact that we do not care!

We as young people need to take a moment. We need to take our health more seriously. We need to long for higher levels of health literacy. We need to realize that the government is not always to blame! The onus is and should be on all of us!

There’s the section for comments. Let’s hear what you think! 🙂

  1. Wow, finally a fresh perspective different from the usual index finger pointing. The other fingers are pointing back at us. The ‘government’ is able to get away with a lot because the followers don’t care enough or don’t have a clue to what’s going on. The health sector in Nigeria is a ticking time bomb. Whether it will be defused or detonated lies with us Nigerians. Near zero health insurance, weak primary health care, lack of harmony among health workers, being a reservoir of polio etc. Something drastic has to be done. Health literacy is abysmally low.

    I asked about you when I came to UCH, what unit are you now?

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