Spotlight: Self Care - A Global Priority

Published on: 2nd October 2019

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The estimated shortage of 12.9 million healthcare workers by 2035, and 1 in 5 of the world’s population now living in humanitarian crises, points to the urgent need to find innovative strategies that go beyond a conventional health sector response.  The rapid evolution of technology is transforming healthcare, with new diagnostics, devices, drugs and digital health transforming how people and health systems interact.

Judy Stenmark

Healthcare will increasingly be delivered beyond hospital walls, reaching more people regardless of location/region, with the use of telehealth. The World Health Assembly Resolution on Digital Health unanimously approved by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States in May 2018 demonstrated a collective recognition of the value of digital technologies to contribute to advancing universal health coverage (UHC) and other health aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although still in its infancy, studies have shown that early adopters of telehealth have been satisfied overall with virtual visits and noted that their care was tailored to their unique health needs. Patients located in rural areas reported savings from travel costs and lost wages. A majority of respondents preferred telehealth instead of in-person visits.

Self care can ease the burden

Set against this context, self care has an increasingly important role to play. According to WHO, self care can ease the burden of the overstretched health systems, reduce cost and increase effectiveness. At the same time, the cost savings associated with self care are beneficial to the whole of society – to individuals, the healthcare system, and the broader economy:

Yet the value of self care is not solely as a response to resource constraints. Self care interventions can bring users greater choice, access, control, satisfaction and affordable options to manage their healthcare needs. Self care can recognise the strengths of individuals as active agents in their own health care, and not merely passive recipients of health services.

Educating and enabling individuals to optimise their health by managing common conditions through preventative self care strategies empowers individuals to become better self-managers of their own health, making appropriate choices for themselves and their families.

Clearly, individuals need encouragement to take more responsibility for their health and wellbeing, but they also need the knowledge, skills and tools required to succeed.

Increased health literacy

A core part of this individual empowerment is tied to education. To empower individuals, it is critical that they can access detailed product information and instructions for use in order to engage in responsible self care with clear labelling and tools to guide individuals. Regulations worldwide require manufacturers to supply this information, and to ensure language is consumer friendly. Many countries require statements in advertising reminding consumers to read the label and leaflet.

Various initiatives have been established globally in order to bridge this gap, helping individuals in terms of health literacy:

Healthcare professionals’ role in self care

In line with this individual empowerment, healthcare professionals (including pharmacists) continue to have a pivotal role to play in the self care continuum by assisting individuals to appropriate self care products and interventions available throughout their life course, and contribute to reducing the number of noncritical doctor consultations while pin-pointing patients to medical practitioners in case a more severe condition is suspected.

Responsibility also clearly lies with governments, and a favourable policy environment in which evidence-based self care practice forms an integral part of national health policy is critical.


By Judy Stenmark, Director General, Global Self-Care Federation