Rebuilding health systems amidst a global pandemic: the impact of self-care

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Judy Stenmark, Director General of The Global Self-Care Federation (GSCF), shares her thoughts on how self-care contributes to more resilient health systems. She emphasizes the need for continued cross-sector and governmental collaboration to secure the industry’s place as a primary component of healthcare delivery.

I strongly believe that practicing responsible self-care has proven to be the best line of defense for people in the pandemic. It has been crucial to decreasing the burden on healthcare systems globally. But the benefits of self-care go well beyond the current crisis. The more we integrate self-care into the health continuum, the sooner we’ll see sustainable healthcare delivering improved health outcomes at reduced costs.

Seeing what self-care brings to society

With an estimated shortage of nearly 13 million healthcare workers forecasted by 2035 and 1 in 5 of the world’s population already living in humanitarian crises, the need to innovate beyond the health sector’s conventional responses is unavoidable.

As COVID-19 continues to overstretch health systems, it’s clear that self-administered care, with guidance from remote digital consultations is the most practical, effective and feasible solution.

We’ve all had to adapt to become more connected and flexible than ever in order to take action at the speed and scale required.

Chief among our challenges at The Global Self-Care Federation, has been to continue delivering the benefits of self-care while standing by the three key pillars that uphold the Federation’s values:

  1. Better choice. In the United States alone, primary care physicians estimate 10% of visits could have been avoided through OTC medication. Recognizing individuals as active players in their healthcare comes with the responsibility of making sure they have a full range of choice, access, control, satisfaction and affordable options to manage their own wellbeing. This is why safeguarding our essential workers in manufacturing plants and supply chains across our industry has been a top priority during the outbreak, making sure we preserve the accessibility of self-care for all.
  2. Better care. Through empowering people with the knowledge and tools to improve their quality of life, self-care encourages preventative behaviours and improves recovery times where total prevention fails. Since March, we’ve facilitated cross-stakeholder collaboration and worked on policy reforms that would allow us to respond with greater agility, all while keeping consumer safety at the forefront. As a result, we’ve been able to empower individuals in self-managing less severe symptoms and developed pharmacies responsibilities so they can act as a primary point of care.
  3. Better value. By helping to reduce the number of unnecessary hospital visits during this unprecedented crisis, WHO has predicted that incorporating self-care into healthcare policies will reduce costs and increase effectiveness of care by making sure healthcare providers can focus on the most critical cases.  

I am confident that these benefits translate directly to improvements for patients, healthcare systems and the broader economy. 

Unlocking our benefits

Healthcare professionals, including nurses and pharmacists, have a pivotal role to play in guiding individuals to appropriate self-care products and interventions. While for our part, one of the biggest challenges will be ensuring individuals are directed towards accurate, science-based information so that they can make the best possible decisions on their self-care journey.

During COVID-19 self-care has finally been recognized as the first line of defense insulating healthcare systems. In order to support it in this role, our industry has earned greater regulatory flexibilities that have allowed pharmacies to remain operational longer and secured supply chains to make sure communities continue to see access to in demand self-care products. This new normal has also allowed pharmacies to step up and take greater agency when it comes to modifying prescriptions, producing disinfectant and dispensing alternative medicines to ensure continuity of treatment for vulnerable patients.

As we move forward, it’s important that we build on the heightened responsibilities that have been afforded to us. That we strengthen collaboration across sectors and with governments, and that we enhance innovation and investment in self-care. This will cement our role as a primary actor in delivering healthcare worldwide.