Sao Paulo Declaration is a Monumental Step to Making Self-Care a Health Movement
The first-ever Latin American Self-Care Regional Congress took place in São Paulo, Brazil, breaking new ground for self-care initiatives on the continent.

A monumental step for self-care was taken this month at the first Latin American Self-Care Regional Congress. Taking place in November in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the two-day congress brought together stakeholders from across the Latin America region to discuss critical topics, such as public policy and regulation, innovation and sustainability, and empowerment and health literacy, among others.

Together with the Global Self-Care Federation (GSCF), the Brazilian Association of Self-Care Products (ACESSA) and the Latin American Association for Responsible Self-Care (ILAR) brought together government officials, healthcare professionals, industry representatives and experts for an excellent first edition of this event.

The theme of the congress was “making self-care a health movement” and was accompanied by an overall objective to amplify and advance discussions on a future World Health Organization’s Resolution on Self-Care. And we were able to do just that.

The crux of this is the Sao Paulo Declaration on Self-Care for Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The Declaration is a huge step towards advancing global health equity and access to healthcare services.

Discourse and action around self-care have continued to advance this year, with the HRP, WHO, UNDP, UNFPA and the World Bank publishing a joint statement on the importance of self-care at the World Health Summit a few weeks ago.

Using the momentum gained through those advancements, we must continue to grow awareness of the importance of self-care until the adoption of a Resolution on Self-Care for Health at the World Health Assembly (WHA), an initiative driven by the United for Self-Care Coalition partners.

If we are to see sustainable and reliable healthcare systems develop for the future, self-care must be included as a foundational aspect. UHC is a key element to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 3 aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all.

Furthermore, the right to health is fundamentally enshrined in international human rights law. The Declaration endorsed at this congress makes a clear commitment to advocate for policies that advance healthcare and expand access to it.

Self-care: A need for Latin America

Yearly savings through self-care globally, according to the Global Self-Care Federation.

As we look towards a future where health systems are constantly in flux, the need for self-care has never been so apparent. 

The Global Self-Care Federation’s Economic and Social Value of Self-Care report notes that “Latin America has the highest percentage of amenable mortality due to receipt of poor-quality health service.” Amenable mortality is defined as deaths from diseases that are potentially preventable with appropriate treatment.

But this treatment for patients doesn’t only need to come from primary healthcare providers. Pharmacists and overall health literacy can make huge strides for health in low-access regions.

Historically in Latin America, self-care is not simply represented by treatment with over-the-counter medications. Treatment with traditional medicines remains prevalent to this day, and it forms a key pillar of self-care and health literacy for the region.

Individuals need to continue to be empowered in order to seek out optimal healthcare solutions according to their situation, and initiatives such as the São Paulo Declaration will enable health systems to continue to grow holistically.

Speaking at the first Latin American Self-Care Regional Congress, Eva Maria Ruiz de Castilla, Executive Director of the Latin America Patients Academy (LAPA), said: “Individuals should be empowered to be able to manage their own health, and health systems should enable them to do so through making healthcare more accessible.

Self-care is a central component of truly integrated health systems and restores the balance between health professionals and individuals. Additionally, integrating self-care into the health continuum supports the achievement of UHC, preventing overburdening of healthcare systems, and should be further expanded to more systems globally”.

Primary health care: A continuum

The São Paolo Declaration was launched on November 9 at the inaugural Latin American Self-Care Regional Congress in Brazil.

The current barriers to healthcare that populations currently face within our healthcare systems clearly demonstrate that we need to consider Primary Health Care (PHC) as a continuum.

This starts with self-care practices at home, seeking out available resources within a community or online, continues with seeking input from various health professionals such as pharmacists, nutritionists and health promoters, and finishes with taking steps to seek out treatment with a specific healthcare provider. Establishing resources for those seeking care to be able to reach out to in order to practice effective self-care is a needed and critical step.

Dr Alejandra Acuña Navarro, Executive Secretary of COMISCA, (Council of Health Ministers of Central America and the Dominican Republic) was one of the speakers at the congress this week.

In her talk titled “Self-Care in the Health Integration System of Central America,” Acuña highlighted the need for a balanced policy effort to establish the sustainable health systems of the future, noting that we cannot simply focus on expanding primary healthcare providers or hospitals as a sole solution.

“We must continue to work towards international recognition of self-care with a World Health Organization’s Global Self-Care Resolution,” said Acuña “In order to drive real change and ultimately achieve UHC, we need all stakeholders to actively support the Resolution.”

The time is now 

If we are to continue with our goal of creating sustainable health systems for the future, self-care needs to be intentionally recognized and adopted within our systems. We know that self-care can be introduced, scaled up, and established as complementary to existing systems. We saw it worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic as extraordinary circumstances forced drastic action from Ministries of Health around the world. 

We know that it’s possible – but we shouldn’t wait until the next time circumstances force our hand. Self-care must be integrated into national and international healthcare systems, and we are seeing the first steps with actions such as the Sao Paulo Declaration.

With momentum on our side, and the international healthcare community growing in awareness and knowledge about the importance of self-care this is an opportunity we cannot miss. We must continue our push for a Global Self-Care Resolution at the World Health Assembly.

Being able to participate in an international congress such as this is a true pleasure, and I leave inspired and committed. I look forward to seeing the next steps that my peers from across the world will take as we continue this journey together. 

About the author

Juan Thompson is the Director General of Latin-American Association of Responsible Self-Care (ILAR), a non-governmental organization that leads the promotion of responsible self-care as the best way to be and stay healthy, as well as ensuring proper access and use of self-care products in Latin America. ILAR is an NGO with consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and members of the GSCF.

Image Credits: GSCF, GSCF.

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