Posted by on February 28, 2019

Timothy Ireland comments on the article “How Adult Education can save your life”

Timothy Ireland is professor and UNESCO Chair in Youth and Adult Education at the Federal University of Paraíba, in João Pessoa, Brazil.

According to Henrique Lopes, we are faced by a choice of paradigms when it comes to spending on health. We can continue spending more and more money to offset what has already happened or educate to prevent what may otherwise happen in the future. He indicates that curative medical care at present receives around 98% of the total available health care budget. In other words, we invest a paltry 2% in preventive health care which is mainly spent on vaccination campaigns. On the basis of this we are lead to conclude that for the health industry including the pharmaceutical industry it is more profitable to keep people ill than to invest in preventive medicine and maintain people well and healthy.

At the same time, there is no strong correlation between the amount spent on health care and the general health of a specific nation. We could perhaps compare the health budget in the USA with the budget dedicated to health in Cuba. There is little doubt as to which of the two nations has a healthier population.

Lopes’ argument that health education should have the same status as literacy and numeracy is to me no exaggeration. Health constitutes one of our fundamental human needs and is a prerequisite for learning. Moreover, as Lopes argues we need to learn to be healthy, to take care of our physical and mental health and of the alimentation which is an integral part of good health. Clearly, this applies to children but it applies even more strongly to adults: we spend much more of our life being adults than we do being children and in general adults are responsible for the health of children. Throughout the diverse phases of our lives, we face different problems and challenges with relation to health which reinforces the notion of lifelong education and learning. In general, we give little attention to preparing adults for parenthood and equally insufficient attention to preparing adults for old age.  I remember being surprised by the fact that the Pastoral da Criança(an organization of the Roman Catholic Church for Children) in Brazil spent a significant part of its budget on literacy education for mothers. However, this relatively small investment can have a greater impact on the child’s future health than a much higher investment in basic sanitation. 

At a time when huge investments are made in advanced curative health care this has tended to benefit the rich rather than the poor with national public health systems facing constant reductions in their budgets. An astonishing number of small children still die from easily avoidable illnesses which a minimal investment in health literacy could solve. Health – both physical and mental – are essential ingredients of what we call quality of life, but as Morin and Hessel affirm,

“Quality of life may at first sound like a synonym for welfare and well-being. But the very notion of well-being has dwindled in contemporary civilization to the strictly material sense that implies comfort, wealth and ownership. These have nothing to do with what really constitutes well-being: furthering personal growth and fulfilment. Relationships of friendship and love, and a sense of community”[1].What we have seen is that the advent of the knowledge society has not been sufficient to create a more human and fraternal world in which the right of all to the fundamental value of health is recognised.

[1]Hessel, Stéphane; Morin, Edgar. (2012) The Path to Hope. Other Press, New York, p. 23-24.

Links to the AED 85/2018 publication in three languages:EnglishFrenchSpanish
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