Health Advocates Push for WHO Self-Care Resolution by Next Year
United for Self-Care Coalition hosts a WHA side-event in Geneva.
United for Self-Care Coalition hosts a WHA side-event in Geneva.

Costa Rica’s and Malawi’s ministers of health, along with global health and policy experts, gathered in Geneva to discuss self-care.

At an event organized by the Global Self-Care Federation (GSCF), participants advocated for a World Health Organization (WHO) resolution on self-care. Costa Rica, Egypt, and Malawi, the three countries that co-hosted the event, are working to elevate self-care.

Ministerial representatives from Guatemala, Belize, Panama and El Salvador were also in attendance.

“The potentials for self-care are enormous,” Iain Chapple, Professor of Periodontology at the University of Birmingham and one of the summit’s panelists, told Health Policy Watch. However, he said the approach “needs to be multidimensional,” with collaboration from different fields.

“We need self-care embedded in public health policy,” said GSCF Director-General, Judy Stenmark. She explained that a WHO resolution “could lead to meaningful policy change” and cost-savings for healthcare systems.

“We want to save time and money for individuals, healthcare professionals and healthcare systems, and we have the evidence and data that demonstrates that self-care can do all that,” Stenmark said.

According to a policy brief published by the United for Self-Care Coalition, implementing self-care protocols can generate as much as $119 billion annually in savings for health systems.

The WHO estimates that there will be a global shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030. In 2022, WHO said at least 400 million people worldwide lacked access to the most essential health services. The organization put self-care among “the most promising and exciting approaches to improve health and well-being.”

One key aspect of the conversation this week was making self-care accessible to all. Every year, 100 million people are plunged into poverty because of high healthcare expenses, WHO has said.

“A comprehensive approach to self-care should encompass cultural sensitivities, holistic practices and community engagement,” said Wendy Olayiwola, president of the Nigerian Nurses Association UK and Professional Midwifery Advocate.

Self-care can complement other public health services by being integrated into general health coverage plans, especially for people who “fall through the cracks” of the system, said Dr Manjulaa Narasimhan, WHO’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research Unit head.

She said that making menstrual products more available across different contexts is a powerful example of self-care implementation.

“Self-care is about how people lead their lives and can care for themselves,” Narasimhan said.

Dr Mary Munive Angermüller, Vice President of Costa Rica and Minister of Health added: “Self-care is not an individual action, it requires a confluence of different circumstances from health literacy to public health policy, in order to realise its potential.”

Putting People at the Center

Another “concrete” benefit of self-care is that “patients take an active role in their health,” said another summit panelist, Ellos Lodzeni, Chair of the International Alliance of Patients’ Organisation. He said patients also make more informed decisions.

“When we put people in the center of healthcare, self-care is inherent,” added Narasimhan.

A big focus of the Global Self-Care Federation’s efforts is education.

Educating people about ways to take care of their health and new tools that can help them with it brings many advantages, said Chapple, who spoke with Health Policy Watch.

Moreover, Narasimhan said that education about where to find accurate health information is essential. She said that sometimes people can find false information online, for example. She said it would be better to provide “good education on self-care, starting from the very beginning.” This means across the life course from the prenatal stage to older adulthood.

Benefits of Self-Care

Various benefits of improved self-care enumerated in the WHO guidelines
Various benefits of improved self-care enumerated in the WHO guidelines

“Self-care can also be discussed in the context of health insurance,” said Dr Mariam Jashi, Chair of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia chapters of UNITE, an international consortium of present and ex-parliamentarians.

She spoke to Health Policy Watch. She said she sees much potential for policy-making regarding health coverage and prevention as essential components of self-care. Screening, for instance, for breast cancer, is “a classic example of self-care. It makes it possible to identify potentially deadly diseases with timely detection [and] increase the chance of survival and quality of life.”

Yet Jashi said we need to agree, “specifically on the international level,” about defining self-care. The summit was an excellent start, Jashi said, “but more work is needed for better framing.”

To find out more about self-care and the work of the United Self-Care Coalition, visit

Image Credits: Zuzanna Stawiska, World Health Organization.

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