Q&A with Incoming Secretariat Director Dr Sarah Onyango

Q1: What motivated you to take on the role of Secretariat Director with the Self-Care Trailblazer Group (SCTG)?

The role of Secretariat Director of the SCTG is within my portfolio as Senior Technical Advisor, Self-Care at Population Services International (PSI) – self-care is a strategic pillar for PSI. The role of Secretariat Director not only contributes to providing leadership and direction for the coalition, but also enables me to advocate for and support the work of the SCTG within my organization. I am privileged to build on the amazing work that the SCTG has been able to achieve since its founding.

Q2: One of your first official encounters with the SCTG was when you moderated the panel during the SCTG’s 2021 Annual Members Summit. What was your impression of the SCTG and its members then and has that changed since taking on this role?

Although my first official encounter with the SCTG was indeed at the Annual Summit, my first real engagement with the SCTG was much earlier. I joined the SCTG shortly after it was founded as the representative for  the International Planned Parenthood Federation . I participated in several SCTG meetings, including a major brainstorming session at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver in 2019.

My impressions of the SCTG were that it was a true trailblazer for self-care, and that it was creating a strong movement. At the Annual Members Summit, I was able to appreciate how much the coalition has grown–in scope and depth. I was impressed by the level of diversity of the membership and increased inclusion of country voices. I was also impressed by how much the coalition is generating and using evidence to advance its work. In brief, my impression was that the SCTG is continuing to establish itself as a critical voice in the movement to advance self-care.

Q3: Can you share some of your experiences working in global health that have shaped your view of self-care today and will guide you in your role as Secretariat Director?

Like many health professionals, my views about self-care have changed in the last couple of years, informed mainly by the growing evidence, the changing policy environment, and the opportunities that self-care provides for achieving UHC. The Lancet Commission Report on SRHR (2018), the WHO Guidelines on Self-Care for SRHR (2019, 2021), and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health system have also been instrumental.

My experiences in global health highlight the challenges that women and girls, adolescents and young people, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups, including people living in humanitarian situations continue to face to exercise their right to essential health care, including sexual and reproductive health information and services. Self-care provides an opportunity for accessing care beyond the traditional health system and complements health systems that are overstretched in many countries. Self-care enables people to make decisions about their health and access services where it is most appropriate for them. As Secretariat Director, I look forward to working with SCTG members and partners to contribute to advancing the self-care agenda, globally and at country level, to improve access, enhance equity, and contribute to achieving UHC.

Q4: What has been a major strength of the SCTG, and how will you build on the SCTG’s growth from the past 3 years to advance self-care?

The SCTG’s strength is in its membership. With over 400 members, the SCTG is a strong, diverse coalition of individuals and organizations that effectively steers the self-care agenda through its working groups and programs and is guided by the 2020 – 2023 Strategy. The Coalition Steering Committee (CSC), the Programme Advisory Committee, and the Executive Committee are all important governance structures that provide guidance and support to the SCTG and ensure that it delivers on its mission. Finally, the national self-care networks ensure that global policies and guidance are translated and adapted at the country level.

I hope to build and strengthen these key institutions of the SCTG. I’ll be working with the CSC to enhance the SCTG’s credibility, ensure financial sustainability for the coalition, and support the transitioning of the SCTG leadership to an organization in the Global South, where all the work takes place.

Q5: What excites you about potential and future of self-care?

Self-care has the potential to change how healthcare is provided, especially in reaching marginalized communities, and to help achieve UHC. I am excited at the opportunities that the digital revolution provides for self-care and increasing access to services. This came out clearly at the Self-Care Learning and Discovery Series in August, where the session on digital self-care, which was most attended, shared presentations on innovations and the opportunities that digital health provides. I look forward to advancing our work on self-care beyond sexual and reproductive health and rights, to address other global health concerns, and to reach other populations, including in humanitarian situations.

Q6: Any additional closing thoughts?

I wish to acknowledge the time and commitment that  Secretariat and members have contributed to the coalition, including those on the Coalition Steering Committee and working groups. You are instrumental to the success of the SCTG. As Secretariat Director, I look forward to working with you, building on your knowledge, skills and expertise to move the SCTG to the next level.