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Inability to read and write, usually because of lack of education in how to do so. The prevalence of functional illiteracy, i.e., inability to read well enough to follow simple written directions, varies from about 5% to 20% in apparently literate societies with allegedly universal education at least through grade school. Functionally illiterate persons can recognize numbers and street signs but are unable to read newspapers, books, or labels on supermarket purchases, medications, etc. This is a potentially serious disability. Illiteracy is a social problem with serious implications for public health in some countries and cultural or ethnic groups in which girls and women are deprived of education, especially when pregnancy or sickness requires the ability to follow written instructions about actions needed to preserve health. In these cultures, it is a marker for social barriers that impede public health initiatives, such as family planning programs.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology.

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