NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Respiratory Health (RESPIRE)

Hani Salim - “health literacy is crucial for asthma care”

Dr Hani Salim talks to the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur about her work

Late in 2021, the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur spoke to Dr Hani Salim about the findings from her PhD study. Her study focused on understanding the needs and challenges of living with asthma among people with low health literacy in Malaysia. In the video, she also describes the importance of including patients, public and stakeholders in narrowing the gap in health inequalities while completing a research project.

Watch her video on Twitter

Hani’s study

Hani’s PhD project with the NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Respiratory Health (RESPIRE) focussed on health literacy around asthma in Malaysia. Health literacy means how people gain, process and understand basic health information to make appropriate health decisions. Her PhD project was to develop an app which could help people with low health literacy in Malaysia to manage their asthma by themselves. If people with asthma understand their condition, it can help them improve how they control it, reduce the number of attacks and hospital visits they have, and ultimately improves their quality of life

Unique environment in Malaysia

In the diverse multicultural, multilingual environment of Malaysia, Hani’s study found that health literacy is socially constructed, meaning that the idea of health literacy is created and accepted by the people in the Malaysian society. Changing the health literacy within a population means changing that society’s beliefs. Any plan to help improve people’s asthma must make sense in their lives.

Understanding the importance of involving people in research, Hani worked directly with people with asthma in Malaysia to find out how asthma affected their lives. Using photovoice techniques, participants took photos to document and reflect the challenges they face with their asthma and the socio-cultural stories behind their illnesses. These images were presented by a patient participant as part of the RESPIRE Annual Scientific Meeting in Kuala Lumpur in September 2019, and were produced in a leaflet. This meeting was attended by officials from the Malaysian Ministry of Health and the patients involved in the study had the opportunity to discuss the project directly with their government.

View the ‘Living with Asthma’ leaflet

App for asthma self-management

Based on the information gathered through the photovoice techniques and workshops with patients and healthcare professionals, Hani developed an asthma self-management app designed for people with low health literacy.

Testing of this app is ongoing by Hani and the RESPIRE team in Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Implications for patients and healthcare providers in Malaysia

The app will empower patients to take a more active role in managing their health. Simple language and picture-based information could help people living with asthma understand their condition and manage it effectively.

This research could help health professionals understand the illness experiences their patients have and how people with asthma are affected by life experiences and suffering. It is hoped that the research can help professionals deliver holistic strategies to support patients in managing their health.

Hani Salim recently passed her viva and completed her PhD based on this work! Congratulations Hani!