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, currently (in 2022) M-POHL has 22 participating member countries, 8 observer countries from the WHO European Region, and in addition observers from Asian countries.

M-POHL’s first project was the European Health Literacy Population Survey 2019-2021 (HLS19) which was conducted in 17 countries. It demonstrated the relevance of general health literacy and specific health literacies for considerable proportions of adult residents with low health literacies, a social gradient for health literacies, and significant potential effects of health literacies on health-relevant indicators. Based on the HLS19 results, recommendations to improve HL were developed (see HLS19 Results). In 2022, a project on measuring organisational HL was started.

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).

Why participate in M-POHL?

M-POHL as an international Action Network with its focus on measuring and improving health literacy in populations and organizations (see workplan below) contributes to the much-needed evidence on health literacy. M-POHL connects expertise from research and policy and fosters evidence-based policy decisions. It puts health literacy on the international and national agenda sustainably. Thus, participating in M-POHL offers high-level international exchange on up-to-date health literacy developments, data, evidence, and experiences to improve research and national policies, as well as participating in framing the international health literacy agenda in close cooperation with WHO and other international bodies. Such agenda-setting for HL is needed more than ever since the orientation in the field of health is becoming increasingly challenging due to a number of dynamic trends, including health threats induced by the climate crisis, the chances and challenges of the digital transformation, pandemics like Corona, mental health challenges in the context of the current global multi-crisis, and the fast-growing medical and health knowledge and technologies.
Health literacy can help to mitigate the effects of these crises on health on different levels: health literacy guides and empowers individuals to increase their chances for health. Data on population health literacy and on health literate organizations, as well as evidence for effective interventions to improve HL support decision makers to develop national interventions on improving health literacy in populations and organizations - including healthcare systems. For more details see the Factsheet M-POHL

Workplan of M-POHL 2023-2027

M-POHL suggests three projects for the timeframe 2023 – 2027 to ensure that its aims are met:

  • Project 1: Measuring Population Health Literacy by HLS24/25, see Factsheet HLS24/25 for details
  • Project 2: Measuring Organizational Health Literacy, see Factsheet OHL for details
  • Porjekt 3: Collecting, mapping, and evaluating evidence on effective interventions to deal with low health literacy and improve health literacy, see Factsheet Evidence for details 

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.