Press Releases

UNIS/SGSM/064
1 September 2008

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

"Illiteracy Has a Direct Impact on Human Health"

Message on International Literacy Day, 8 September 2008

VIENNA, 8 September (UN Information Service) -- One in five adults - some 774 million - are illiterate, and thus live with no access to the vast global store of written communication. Seventy-five million children are not in school, and millions more young people leave school without a level of literacy adequate for productive and active participation in society. These would be devastating numbers at any time, for individuals and societies alike; that they occur in the context of today's information society should drive home the urgency of efforts to promote literacy throughout the world.

The theme of this year's observance of International Literacy Day, "Literacy and Health", is meant to draw more attention to the links between the two. Illiteracy has a direct impact on human health. It prevents people from being able to read the instructions on a medicine bottle. It means that people are less likely to know facts about AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases. And because two thirds of those who are illiterate are women and girls, who often bear the burden of caring for sick members of their families, it means that they will be less likely to know about prevention and support services, and how to use life-saving medicines and other treatments.

To increase literacy skills, well-defined policies and increased investment will be essential. Literacy is indispensable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals targeting maternal health and combating HIV and malaria, and for addressing some of the world's most important public health challenges. On this International Literacy Day, let us all - Governments, the UN family, donors and civil society - translate this commitment into more vigorous action. Literacy for all will benefit us all.

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