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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 September 29; 335(7621): 628.
PMCID: PMC1995532
Health Equity for All

Ignorance isn't always bliss

Hugh van't Hoff, GP and educationalist

I am struck by the global absence of a debate about health literacy in achieving health equity for all.1 Patients (users) in all countries have a right to information about health. This is enshrined in the constitution of the World Health Organization of 1946. If we are to share our knowledge we need to share a common language. Up to now advocates of health literacy have suggested we remove technical language—a sort of dumbing down.

I propose that we give up our hold on medical information and make it available to all from primary school on—this would entail a massive effort by government, medics, and educationalists to re-package the information, but it's worth looking at. By doing this we would be educating children about the social, political, geographical, and “medical” (infectious, degenerative, etc) causes of disease, and we would be altering presently dry subject areas such as history, geography, and statistics. Furthermore, we would be emancipating children to make their own decisions and possibly helping with the downturn in interest in pure sciences in the developed nations.

I have started an educational pilot programme ( along these lines in my local secondary school and will soon start direct patient education in my surgery. The aim with both is for clients to understand the processes involved in illness and by doing so reach a more rounded view about their problem and be better able to own their condition and take more responsibility for it. This doesn't mean we are trying to teach them that the doctor is always right—more that the science on which we make decisions is valid if sometimes poorly used.


Competing interests: None declared.


1. Maryon-Davis A. Achieving health equity for all. BMJ 2007;335:522-3. (15 September.) [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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