Self-care describes in a practical, person-centred way what we should all be doing to maintain our health, wellness and wellbeing. Through self-care people can be healthier and remain so into old age, managing minor ailments themselves. We can also better manage, delay or even prevent the appearance of lifestyle diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and many cancers.
The evidence is clear. Self-care works. And the first and main beneficiaries of self-care are self-carers themselves.
But that is not all. Self-care is a potential win-win opportunity for all stakeholders in health. It can be a win for governments through healthier, more productive citizens and reduced pressure on health and social system services and budgets. It can be a win for healthcare professionals – doctors and nurses will have more time to focus on keeping people well and for more serious cases, and pharmacists will be able to offer a wider range of health and wellness services. It can be a win for the commercial sector – better self-care will expand the rational use of products and services, and offer opportunities for the development of new products and services.
Many countries have incorporated aspects of self-care into policies, and promoted some innovation and notable practices. However, all countries are a long way from implementing robust and meaningful policy prescriptions designed to promote individual and population self-care capabilities, shift professional practices, or reorient healthcare systems towards a preventative ethos. While the importance of achieving a salutogenic health model has been acknowledged in theory and in some global policy rhetoric from the UN and the WHO, we are a very long way from real transformation.
Self-care needs to have a much higher profile as a necessary element of every country’s future approach to the health of the population and the health of individuals. There is a great opportunity for self-care promotion – to articulate and promote the practice of self-care to healthy individuals, patients and indeed to all stakeholders around the world.
Stakeholders include healthy individuals and patients, government departments, the healthcare professions, community organisations, NGOs, charities, consumer organisations and intergovernmental organisations. All businesses have an interest in the health and wellbeing of their employees and many have direct commercial interest in self-care – life assurance, telecoms, fitness and nutrition, pharma and others.
There is a major opportunity and need to help align all these stakeholders, who currently view self-care in substantially different ways. A key objective is for all stakeholders to share a common understanding of self-care even where they use alternative terms such as healthy lifestyles, self-management or disease prevention.
All stakeholders would benefit from the unified strategic global development of a commonly-understood and accepted self-care, starting with a clear articulation of its nature and purpose. While self-care should be making a much greater contribution to healthcare today, the case still needs to be clearly made. Ultimately, the objective is to articulate a consistent narrative which frames the subject of self-care in a way that all stakeholders accept, and which becomes embedded in society.
In 2011 the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) was created as a charity to champion self-care around the world. ISF is in a unique position in health by virtue of its specific focus on self-care, international orientation and charitable status. ISF’s core strategies are to help develop evidence-based self-care concepts and practices, and to promote the role of self-care in health.