Self-Care Has Changed The Way We Approach Health In The Pandemic
Many self-care products have been recommended to treat COVID-19 symptoms

Healthcare systems were not ready for COVID-19, which has been declared as ‘the defining global health crisis of our time’. The extended practice of self-care among individuals has helped to ease the strain on healthcare systems and improve the delivery of treatment in communities, providing vulnerable patients with the care they need. Personalized health and medicine have become priorities during the pandemic as people care from home.

Increasingly, people are accessing healthcare through new means, such as pharmacies, stores, and even the internet. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend. Science-based self-care interventions help to improve health outcomes and healthcare delivery while ensuring that health systems around the world are sustainable.

But this shift towards self-care comes with the necessity to introduce sound regulation to enable people to make the right decisions about their health, and protect those who are vulnerable to fraud or misinformation.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is the practice of individuals looking after their health using the knowledge and information available to them. It involves empowering individuals to care for themselves, in collaboration with health practitioners as needed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as: “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”

Concretely, self-care products include over-the-counter medicines (OTCs), vitamins and dietary supplements, medical and diagnostic devices, and other items available for purchase without a prescription at a local pharmacy. Medical devices, such as blood pressure monitors, insulin pumps, inhalers, and thermometers, can be used autonomously by people. Throughout the pandemic, many self-care products, such as pain medications or fever reducers, have been recommended to help treat the symptoms of COVID-19.

The novel coronavirus has disrupted healthcare systems in several ways. Many healthcare systems have been unable to cope with the unprecedented number of patients requiring urgent care in addition to usual healthcare demands. Hospitals have been forced to suspend non-essential procedures in order to anticipate an influx of coronavirus patients, resulting in disparities in care and consideration, particularly for patients suffering from non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Pharmacists and pharmacies have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo credit: SteFou!)

Pharmacies and pharmacists have played an increasingly crucial role in the promotion and practice of self-care interventions. Typically, the first point of contact with healthcare systems, pharmacies have provided an indispensable service throughout the pandemic, adapting their practices to overcome restrictions imposed during the lockdown period. In addition to stocking appropriate products and promoting disease prevention, certain pharmacies have offered drive-through services, telemedicine and medication deliveries to ensure the continuation of patient treatment.

Consequently, COVID-19 has led to more public awareness about self-care, promoting positive change in the day-to-day habits of individuals. New research shared by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare and IPSOS finds that consumers are more involved in their healthcare journeys and show a willingness to change behaviour in favour of greater health practices. The study also shows that Europeans are taking extra precautions to avoid illness transmission and are taking their health into their own hands to relieve pressure on healthcare systems.

Combatting an ‘Infodemic’

In the climate of fast-paced information, the need to consult reputable sources for matters concerning medical care cannot be emphasised enough.

WHO identified the dangerous consequences of misinformation and misleading or false healthcare information early on in the pandemic, calling it an ‘infodemic’. There have been reports of unproven and unsafe practices to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, such as ingesting bleach solutions, hand sanitizer or essential oils as a means of ‘internal disinfection‘- methods that are not only ineffective, but also dangerous. Poison centres have also noted an increase in the number of cases related to use of bleach and other disinfectant solutions.

The quantity of misinformation concerning the COVID-19 virus has urged many health agencies to set up information hubs to combat false information and curb widespread confusion.

As the Global Self-Care Federation, we launched a COVID-19 portal on our website to share and centralise credible news updates and official statements within the self-care industry and highlight the numerous initiatives led by our members in the COVID-19 response. We are continuing to develop a hub for self-care resources from our members and other recognised bodies.

It is crucial that people exercise self-care responsibly. Health practitioners have a duty to provide reliable and timely information to consumers to support self-care and ensure the safe use of medical products.

Consumers and practitioners of self-care also have a responsibility to ensure they are well-informed on the proper use of medicines, medical devices, and, crucially, when to seek professional guidance.

Self-care should not be understood as a replacement for traditional medical care. It is primarily a means of promoting good health and general well-being while preventing illness and injury. Any doubts related to the correct or appropriate use of self-care products should be addressed to a registered healthcare professional.

Consumer education and enhancing health literacy remains a critical factor in the success of self-care interventions and greater healthcare delivery. This is especially true in lower-income countries, where healthcare systems have been hit more severely by the adverse effects of the COVID-19 disruption, and where populations can benefit from a wider adoption of self-care practices.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are used to prevent the transmissions of the virus
Regulation of the Self-Care Industry Builds Trust – And Better Interactions Between Providers and Patients 

Trust is a principal component of any system where people are the common denominator.

This year, GSCF conducted a trust audit to understand the impact of trust on the self-care industry for both consumers and stakeholders, and we found that trust in the self-care industry is lower in countries with weaker regulation. The weaker regulation can reflect quality of care and the ability of people to make the right decisions about their health. The audit also showed that safety is the primary driver of trust among healthcare consumers. Europe, for example, scores high in trust as a result of its focus on policy, testing and regulatory control of self-care products and services.

There is a clear relationship between quality healthcare and a well-regulated healthcare system. Regulation is used to protect consumers, but beyond ensuring safe healthcare treatments, an appropriate regulatory framework can be used to provide greater access to healthcare.

Policymakers should provide pharmacies and pharmacists with a greater capacity to deliver responsible self-care. Evidence suggests that further integration of self-care in healthcare stands to support the healthcare industry by creating more efficient choices for consumers, while generating better health outcomes for greater value.

Positive changes in legislation during the pandemic have allowed pharmacies to remain operational for longer, modify prescriptions and dispense alternative medicines without consulting a doctor. This has allowed for the continuity of treatment among vulnerable persons. Other regulatory flexibilities have occurred to ensure the continuity of supply amid increased demand for self-care products including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as paracetamol. These flexibilities have translated into welcome efficiencies, and I hope they form a basis for improved policy and regulations beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

Furthermore, advancements in technology are rapidly changing the way individuals interact with healthcare providers and access self-care products, such as remote medical consultations and diagnoses or portable life-saving medical devices. As healthcare systems adopt innovations, a robust regulatory framework is not only advisable, but necessary.

The delicate balance between regulating access to medicines and empowering individuals to take charge of their healthcare journeys is one to approach cautiously. Nevertheless, the increased role of self-care amidst the global health crisis has set a hopeful precedent for future self-care policy decisions.

Self-care has the potential to become an integral part of healthcare systems around the world. Through ensuring the correct adoption of self-care interventions, supported by a robust regulatory framework, we can ensure that self-care continues to play a role beyond the pandemic, providing better choice, value and improved health outcomes for all.


Judy Stenmark is Director General at The Global Self-Care Federation (GSCF). GSCF represents associations and manufacturers in the self-care industry, promoting sustainable and better global health outcomes for all. The Global Self-Care Federation is the go-to source of information for the self-care industry. We work closely with our members and relevant stakeholder groups to deliver better choice, better care and better value. By placing the benefits of self-care at the heart of what we do, promoting industry transparency, and supporting the regulated use of health data, we ensure that self-care continues to play its increasingly vital role in sustainable healthcare, worldwide. For more information please visit: 

Image Credits: Shutterstock, Flickr: SteFou!, Shutterstock (from GSCF), GSCF.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.