Pandemic-related health literacy: a systematic review of literature in COVID-19, SARS and MERS pandemics.

Publication date: Jul 17, 2023

Health literacy plays an essential role in one’s ability to acquire and understand critical medical information in the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infodemic and in other pandemics. We aimed to summarise the assessment, levels and determinants of pandemic-related health literacy and its associated clinical outcomes. A systematic review was performed in Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL and four major preprint servers. Observational and interventional studies that evaluated health literacy related to the novel COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) were included. Items used in health literacy instruments were grouped under the themes of knowledge, attitudes and practices. Determinants of health literacy were grouped into five domains: sociodemographic, medical, psychological/psychiatric, health systems-related and others. Of the 2,065 articles screened, 70 articles were included. Of these, 21, 17 and 32 studies evaluated health literacy related to COVID-19, SARS and MERS, respectively. The rates of low pandemic health literacy ranged from 4. 3% to 57. 9% among medical-related populations and from 4. 0% to 82. 5% among nonmedical populations. Knowledge about the symptoms and transmission of infection, worry about infection, and practices related to mask usage and hand hygiene were most frequently evaluated. Sociodemographic determinants of health literacy were most frequently studied, among which higher education level, older age and female gender were found to be associated with better health literacy. No studies evaluated the outcomes associated with health literacy. The level of pandemic-related health literacy is suboptimal. Healthcare administrators need to be aware of health literacy determinants when formulating policies in pandemics.

Concepts Keywords
Coronavirus COVID-19
Literacy health literacy
Psychiatric SARS virus


Type Source Name
disease MESH COVID-19
disease MESH severe acute respiratory syndrome
disease MESH Middle East respiratory syndrome
disease MESH infection
disease MESH education level
drug DRUGBANK Tropicamide

Original Article

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