At least 400 million people worldwide lack access to the most essential health services. By 2035, there will be an estimated shortage of nearly 13 million healthcare workers. Around 1 in 5 of the world’s population will be living in settings that are experiencing humanitarian crises.
At the same time, new diagnostics, devices, drugs and digital innovations are transforming how people interact with the health sector.
In response to this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched its first guideline on self-care interventions for health, with a focus in this first volume on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Some of the interventions include self-sampling for HPV and sexually transmitted infections, self-injectable contraceptives, home-based ovulation predictor kits, HIV self-testing and self-management of medical abortion.
What is self-care?
Self-care is “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider”.
Self-care interventions represent a significant push towards new and greater self-efficacy, autonomy and engagement in health for self-carers and caregivers. In launching this guideline, WHO recognises how self-care interventions could expand access to health services, including for vulnerable populations. People are increasingly active participants in their own health care and have a right to a greater choice of interventions that meets their needs across their lifetime, but also should be able to access, control, and have affordable options to manage their health and well-being.
Access for the most vulnerable
Self-care interventions are a complementary approach to health care that forms an important part of the health system. Self-care is also a means for people who are negatively affected by gender, political, cultural and power dynamics including those who are forcibly displaced, to have access to sexual and reproductive health services, as many people are unable to make decisions around sexuality and reproduction.
Promoting a safe and supportive enabling environment in which they can access and use health interventions when and where they choose to, improves autonomy and helps improve the health and well-being of these vulnerable and marginalised people.
The importance of self-care interventions for health policy, financing and systems has thus far been undervalued and its potential not fully acknowledged, despite the fact that people have been practicing self-care for millennia.