Today, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are the major cause of mortality and morbidity in most countries around the world. With populations ageing and lifespans increasing, millions of people are living longer with NCD-related morbidities which require long-term treatment and care. The result is reduced quality of life for the individual and unsustainably rising healthcare costs.
The United Nations has recognised that focusing solely on simply treating noncommunicable diseases would not be a sufficient or desirable approach, but that prevention is also essential. The 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals includes the target of a one-third reduction of premature mortality from NCDs by 2030. The World Health Organisation has developed nine global targets for 2025, most of which address the risk factors of NCDs and require people to lead healthier lifestyles.
These are ambitious targets, but only modest detail is available on how to achieve the targets at a country level – how to ‘deliver’ prevention. It is clear that NCDs are preventable by people individually taking responsibility for themselves and addressing the risk factors, particularly tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excess alcohol consumption. But between the high-level targets, and the individual facing the need to change their life and lifestyle, to self-care, there is a huge gap.
The many challenges start with the lack of a common and consistent framework of understanding and terminology. Politicians and policy-makers lack specific evidence-based policy levers. Healthy lifestyles lie substantially outside the remit of current healthcare and social care systems, which are necessarily oriented towards treating sickness rather than promoting wellness. As an academic subject self-care has been significantly under-resourced. And most fundamentally of all, the lessons of human health behavioural psychology need to be understood and deployed.
Now is the time to address these challenges. Self-care can provide the unifying concept that connects the high-level call for prevention with the reality of a person faced with difficult lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking or reducing calorie intake. Self-care can provide the common focus for all stakeholders – policy-makers, healthcare professionals, academia, business, community volunteers and others. There are in fact many important self-care relevant initiatives that currently operate in largely separate ‘silos’. These include the ‘healthy city’ movement, the academic nursing community, lifestyle medicine societies and country self-care forums, behavioural health psychology theory, and new technologies (eHealth, mHealth, apps, internet, diagnostics and monitors). Joining all these up under the mantle of self-care presents a golden opportunity.
Self-care in the past lacked a champion, which led to the establishment of the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF). ISF is oriented towards self-care for both the healthy person who wants to delay or prevent NCDs, and the person who needs to better self-manage a chronic condition.
ISF focuses on two broad areas – the promotion of self-care globally, and the development of the ‘evidence base’ for self-care. Our promotion of self-care includes ‘International Self-Care Day’ on July 24, the ISF World Healthy City Award, and the ISF/SelfCare Prize Essay – all annual events. ISF has developed the ‘7 Pillars of Self-Care’ framework which has been adopted globally and is proving a useful and robust device. ISF has published a series of papers with the peer-reviewed journal ‘SelfCare’, a strategic partner. At the ‘sharp end’ ISF is particularly interested in best practices and how to support individuals to self-care in the context of current behavioural health psychology theories. ISF’s Academic Advisory Board (AAB) includes internationally recognised academic figures involved in self-care research, responsible for helping develop the ISF R&D Agenda.
ISF is a unique organisation in the self-care space and as a registered charity we are able to work independently and effectively – explaining and promoting self-care, helping develop the evidence, connecting and interacting with government departments, academia, industry, healthcare professional groups, the WHO and others. Having established ‘proof of principle’, ISF is now in a position to further the development of self-care globally.
Self-care’s time has come. The ISF Trustees would therefore like to invite expressions of interest from other parties to collaborate in the further development of self-care globally. We would be delighted to hear from:
· University-linked academics with an interest in self-care who would like to join the ISF Academic Advisory Board. A document on the AAB is available on request.
· Commercial companies interested in joining the ISF Corporate Advisory Board (CAB). A document on the CAB is available on request.
· Individuals with expertise and interest to contribute to the work of ISF initially on a part-time or voluntary basis. Formal recruitment to key posts (CEO, Communications /Programmes Executive, Writer) in the ISF secretariat in 2017 is anticipated. Further information available on request.
· Organisations with an interest in self-care that would like to develop links with ISF.