Sexual and reproductive health

Self-care interventions for health

Expanding access to health services with self-care interventions

Close of up woman's hands holding self-administered injectable contraceptive
PATH/Gabe Bienczycki, Courtesy of Photoshare

24 June 2019 | At least 400 million people worldwide lack access to the most essential health services. By 2035, there will be an estimated shortage of nearly 13 million healthcare workers. Around 1 in 5 of the world’s population will be living in settings that are experiencing humanitarian crises. At the same time, new diagnostics, devices, drugs and digital innovations are transforming how people interact with the health sector.
In response to this, WHO launched its first guideline on self-care interventions for health, with a focus in this first volume on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Some of the interventions include self-sampling for HPV and sexually transmitted infections, self-injectable contraceptives, home-based ovulation predictor kits, HIV self-testing and self-management of medical abortion.

Self-care interventions, keys to catalyzing innovation and progress to improve UHC

23 May 2019, GENEVA | WHO announced the launch of a ‘Self Care Month’ during a World Health Assembly side event. This follows the planned launch of the first WHO consolidated guideline on self-care interventions for health on 24 June. The high-level side event was co-sponsored by the Ministry of Health of Bangladesh and the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Namibia and featured speakers from various Member States, as well as parliamentarians, young health professionals and other United Nations agencies.

Self-care can be an effective part of national health systems

A woman in Senegal self-injects the contraceptive, subcutaneous DMPA in her leg.
Photoshare/Gabe Bienczycki

2 April 2019 | A new supplement supported by UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Special Programme – HRP and published by the BMJ looks at issues of self-care interventions for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The special supplement includes a collection of analyses, systematic reviews and opinion pieces, providing an evidence base for the development of global normative guidance.

WHO’s conceptual framework for self-care

The conceptual framework recognizes that in addition to the traditional self-care practices that societies have passed on through generations, people are accessing new information, products, and interventions through stores, pharmacies, and the internet. Digital health and mobile technologies are increasing rapidly, not only as places of access but in many other aspects of self-care.

What do we mean by self-care?

Woman and her baby in a pharmacy
By Elmvh CC BY-SA 3

WHO’s working definition of self-care is “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider”. The scope of self-care as described in this definition includes health promotion; disease prevention and control; self-medication; providing care to dependent persons; seeking hospital/specialist care if necessary; and rehabilitation including palliative care.

Human rights, legal, ethical, and social accountability frameworks for self-care

Health worker shows how to administer medicines, Bhutan
Health worker shows how to administer medicines, Bhutan

The importance of information and supportive systems around any new technology or product needs to be based upon the 3AQ: availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality. For the user (the rights holder), the ability to engage in self-care interventions with products that are available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality is a core component of promoting and protecting their right to health.

Importance of self-care to reach WHO’s triple billion goals

3 billions graphic

The WHO’s general programme of work (GPW13) is focussed on achieving triple billion goals by 2023. Whether it’s the adoption of new technologies or as a guiding principle, there are few healthcare approaches that sit as comfortably across these three goals as self-care. Self-care has therefore a crucial role to play in achieving these aims.

fact buffet

Health workforce

12.9 million estimated shortage of healthcare workers by 2035.

Healthcare providers promoting self-care

Health coverage

3.6 billionhalf the world lacks access to essential health services.

Increasing UHC through self-care

Health financing

100 million plunged into poverty because of out of pocket health care

Financing considerations for self-care


Social media tiles


Implementation of the WHO Consolidated guideline on self-care Interventions in Morocco

Remarks of WHO DG Dr Tedros on the launch of the first WHO guideline on self-care interventions

Catalyzing innovation and progress through self-care interventions

Building the evidence base for self-care for SRHR