The World Health Organization has launched its first guideline on self-care interventions for sexual and reproductive health and rights in response to the growing development and use of new diagnostics, devices, drugs and digital innovations that are shaping the ways in which people interact with the health sector. Laura Ferguson, Director of the Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health, has been collaborating and offering insight on the guideline in partnership with the WHO.
“I’ve been working with WHO on this guideline for over a year, and I’ve been trying to help think through what advice might be useful to countries around the enabling environment that needs to be in place to ensure the safe and effective introduction and roll-out of self-care interventions for SRHR. There are a lot of things that countries might not think about because so much self-care happens outside the health system and health sector” Ferguson said about her experience on the project. “I really hope that this guideline will help people, especially those who face difficulties accessing SRHR services, gain safe access to interventions they need and that they’re appropriately supported to use if they want to. For me, it’s about giving people information and choice to take control of their sexual and reproductive health in ways that feel good to them and can improve their health.”
“When we’re talking about self-care interventions, everything that happens outside the health system feels really critical – we need to ensure that people are getting information that helps them make informed choices about whether or not they want to use these interventions, that they understand what’s going on if they do choose to use them – implications of test results, how to deal with side effects… – and that they know how to and can access the health system at any point when they feel they need to.”Laura Ferguson, PhD
Self-care is important for all populations who are negatively impacted by gender and power dynamics and an enabling environment must be created so they have access to sexual and reproductive health services when and where they choose. Access to self-care interventions can help more people access interventions that they need and this guideline provides a path for health systems to follow in order to maintain quality interventions in a safe and supportive environment.
“This guideline is important because, increasingly, we’re doing things that we used to do in a health facility outside of a health care setting – whether it’s self-screening for STIs, self-injection of contraceptives or one of the many other self-care interventions that exist – and there hasn’t been any global guidance about what countries should put in place to ensure that this is happening safely and effectively. Technologies for self-care are proliferating and it’s critical that we understand the information people need to make appropriate choices about their use, the regulatory environments that are needed to help ensure accountability for interventions taking place outside healthcare settings, and how best to link people to the health system when they want or need that. This guideline begins to take on all of these issues and it can really help guide countries as they also move in this direction.”
June 24 marks the beginning of self-care month ending on July 24 self-care day. The guideline will continue to be expanded upon with further promotion of research and dialogue around other areas of self-care interventions.
Linked to this work, Laura Ferguson and Sofia Gruskin, faculty at the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health, as well as other colleagues have published a peer-reviewed article to promote understanding of the importance of human rights and the legal dimensions of an enabling environment for self-care interventions that are safe and empowering for all.
“Human rights and legal analysis can highlight potential concerns and help inform the enabling environment required to promote appropriate and equal access to quality self-care interventions, especially for people in situations of vulnerability.”Laura Ferguson and colleagues