M-POHL Action Network

Health literacy is increasingly on the political agenda of the member states of WHO Europe. The Action Network on Measuring Population and Organizational Health Literacy (M-POHL) was founded under the umbrella of WHO´s European Health Information Initiative (EHII) in February 2018 with the adoption of the Vienna Statement on the Measurement of Population and Organizational health literacy in Europe in order to add value to national efforts in improving health literacy. According to M-POHL’s Concept Note, the main aim of the network is to generate data on population and organizational health literacy to support evidence-informed (policy) decisions and interventions.

M-POHL builds upon WHO´s Health Literacy: The solid facts and the first European Health Literacy Survey (HLS-EU) (2009-2012) which found that an average of 47% of the citizens in the 8 participating countries had limited health literacy. Subsequently, more and more countries set out to measure and improve health literacy. M-POHL brings together health researchers, health policy makers, and health administrators. Member countries typically participate with two positions: a representative from research and one from health policy or health administration. This enables dialogue between these perspectives. These representatives form the M-POHL assembly which convenes twice annually to discuss progress and to jointly decide on next steps. This continuous collaboration increases a broader understanding of health literacy, supports health literacy’s momentum, and assists the planning of specific health literacy activities and interventions in respective countries. M-POHL is open to all member states of WHO-Europe, 28 countries already have joined the action network.

M-POHL’s first project, the Health Literacy Population Survey Project 2019-2021 (HLS19), is aiming to collect comparative data on population health literacy in as many member states of the WHO-European region as possible. Up to 20 countries have already committed themselves to participate in HLS19.

The M-POHL Action Network is currently co-chaired by Christina Dietscher (Austrian Federal Minister of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection) and by Jürgen Pelikan (Austrian National Public Health Institute).

A short history of M-POHL 

Following the HLS-EU project, the European Region’s publication Health Literacy: The solid facts summarized recommendations for improving health literacy across sectors and policy areas and called for regular comparative health literacy surveys in Europe in as many countries as possible. Inspired by a letter from HLS-EU scientists to the ministers of health of Austria, Germany and Switzerland in 2016, the ministers of these countries, together with their colleagues from Luxemburg and Liechtenstein (Quintet countries), jointly committed themselves to support the establishment of regular health literacy surveys in Europe. They implemented a working group to further explore the best way forward and came up with the idea of an action network under the umbrella of the WHO European Region, which received strong support from its European Health Information Initiative. The inaugural meeting of the resulting M-POHL network took place in Vienna, Austria, in February 2018, followed by a second network meeting in Berne, Switzerland, in August 2018. The 68th meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, that took place in September 2018 in Rome, Italy, hosted a technical briefing on health literacy measurement in the region. Throughout the meeting, member states repeatedly stated the need for health literacy measurements, such as the inclusion of health literacy as a progress indicator for Health 2020, and reinforced the importance of health literacy in almost all sessions of the Regional Committee.