By Sandy Garçon, Founding Director of the Self-Care Trailblazer Group and Senior Communications Manager, Practice Areas, PSI
Four years ago, Population Services International (PSI) convened several key partners to form the Self-Care Trailblazer Group (SCTG). We gathered on the margins of what would become the last pre-COVID International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP). We were undoubtedly on the precipice of a fundamental shift in global health and could not know then how the world would embrace self-care in unprecedented ways.
By the following year, the World Health Organization (WHO) published its first Consolidated Guideline on Self-Care, promoting autonomy and agency as vital components in safeguarding public health. Then in 2020, an unprecedented pandemic brought health systems to the brink of collapse across the globe. Amid worldwide lockdowns, self-care solutions became critically important for people to stay healthy while sheltering at home.
While self-care is an old concept, new medical devices and approaches and the rapid growth in digital technologies are converging in exciting and innovative ways that impact how we use, access, and make our health decisions. And although many of these interventions – HIV self-testing, self-injectable contraception, HPV self-sampling, medication abortion – have become staples of health programming, there were few policy frameworks to back them up.
In establishing the SCTG, PSI and partners – with the support of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation – seek to use the groundwork laid by the WHO to foster the enabling environment to make self-care accessible to all.
Even before COVID-19, the WHO estimated that less than half of the world’s population has access to basic and essential healthcare services – and that there will be a shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030. More than ever, we require creative solutions to rebuilding health systems – including self-care.
It’s important to note that self-care is not a replacement for health systems. Mounting evidence shows that it is an essential part of a complete healthcare package. We in the SCTG believe self-care makes health systems more equitable and efficient, which is especially important as we rebuild following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly true in the sphere of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) where stigma abounds and privacy is critical.
Women and girls are often disadvantaged at a disproportionate rate to men concerning access to information and quality health products and services. Self-care aims to redress this balance, enabling an equal, practical environment for everyone to access the SRHR care they require. As such, self-care is an integral tool to reach the 214 million women and girls around the world who have an unmet need for contraception.
The SCTG brings together a diverse group of partners with a decades-long history of expanding options for family planning. The power of our collective action contributes to self-care issue salience by leveraging global communications and advocacy, advancing a learning agenda to inform policy development, and producing “global goods” to strengthen the evidence base for self-care that goes beyond single interventions. At the country level, SCTG National Self-Care Networks, incorporating diverse and strategic public, private, and civil society voices, have successfully supported the development of national self-care guidelines in Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal, and more recently, Kenya.
It’s true that self-care has received greater attention and relevance in recent years. Gone are the days when even the most seasoned global health practitioner would conjure images of (predominantly) white women doing yoga or on a spa day at the first mention of self-care. But the work is far from over and we continue to learn and grow.
Since that first meeting at ICFP, we expanded our membership to garner diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise. Our new members added to our ability to position and promote self-care and broadened our scope beyond purely SRHR interventions, affording greater geographic and sectoral diversity. Currently, 60% of SCTG members come from the Global South. Our members play a crucial role in mitigating the small pockets of opposition to self-care that still exist while also helping advance national policies and practices, and working with providers to better integrate self-care into their work.
There is a critical opportunity to chart a new frontier in healthcare and work towards universal health coverage (UHC) by strengthening the policy and regulatory environment for self-care interventions and ensuring it is included as an essential part of UHC services, policies, and programming. Ensuring affordable and functional basic health coverage for all calls for us to develop health systems that put people at the heart of healthcare and more control in individuals’ hands.
Are you interested in the Self-Care Trailblazer Group?
- Visit www.selfcaretrailblazers.org to learn more about self-care and our work.
- If you are not already a member, we encourage you to join the coalition and any (or all) the SCTG working groups. To submit your membership application, please fill out this form. We are stronger when we join forces and work together!
- Sign up for the SCTG monthly newsletter! If you want to receive communications from the SCTG about all things self-care, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
- Check us out on Twitter and Instagram, and follow us for the latest self-care news.
* * * * *
This article is a part of PSI’s ICFP 2022 Impact Magazine. Explore the magazine here.