Health workers have a critical role in supporting self-care

Today, on Self-Care Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new resource – a competency framework – to help health and care workers support people’s self-care efforts. Self-care interventions enable people to test for and manage diseases and disability, prevent illness, or get information relating to their health.

“Self-care interventions are an integral part of health systems and can significantly expand options for delivering health care services, especially for those who are most underserved,” said Dr Pascale Allotey, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and HRP at WHO, who is also a midwife by training. “Health and care workers play an important role in helping people understand and use self-care approaches and tools – whether to self-test for pregnancy, COVID-19 or HIV, manage their fertility or self-monitor chronic health conditions – these resources aim to support them in this endeavour.”

An estimated 3.6 billion people – half of the world – lack access to essential health services. WHO recommends self-care interventions for every country as a critical path to reaching universal health coverage, helping people have more control over their own health; supporting wider healthcare options, and enabling easier access to healthcare.

Self-care interventions for health include, among others: self-administered contraceptives, screening for COVID-19 as well as human papillomavirus (HPV), HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, blood pressure monitoring, pregnancy and ovulation tests, and techniques for managing stress, substance use, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

In addition, in times of major disruptions to the normal functioning of national health systems, caused by health emergencies, self-care interventions can provide an important alternative to the usual facility-based services.

The Self-care competency framework is published in three parts: competency standards; a knowledge guide, geared at health and care workers; and a curriculum guide for use by those involved in planning and delivering education and training of health and care workers.

The standards define 10 key competencies for health and care workers to support self-care in their clinical practice as well as the specific, measurable behaviours that demonstrate those competencies, focusing on people-centredness; decision-making; effective communication; collaboration; evidence-informed practice, and personal conduct.

“We invite countries, health and care worker education institutions and employers to integrate the standards into education and practice, and to support and invest in a health and care workforce that is competent to provide people-centred, quality, evidence-based health services,” said Dr Jim Campbell, Director of the Health Workforce Department at WHO. WHO defines self-care as the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability. Developed jointly by WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and the Health Workforce Department, the new publications support implementation of WHO’s Guideline on self-care interventions first published in 2019, and updated in 2022.

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