Self-Care for Maternal and Newborn Health: A Call to Action for WHO DG Candidates

By Betsy McCallon, CEO White Ribbon Alliance

As candidates for Director General of the World Health Organization, we call on you to champion self-care as a solution to the world’s maternal and newborn health problems.

White Ribbon Alliance and Bayer made a commitment to the Global Strategy to Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent Health to advance and promote self-care to improve maternal and newborn health. As defined by the WHO in 1983, “self-care refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness and restoring health. Responsible self-care can improve individual health, increase quality of life and reduce the burden on healthcare systems.”

The first milestone for the partnership: the publication and public launch at the UN High Level Political Forum of Self-Care: A Cost Effective Solution for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health for All, This policy paper outlines the benefits and barriers to maternal and newborn health self-care policies, practices and recommendations at the global, national and local levels. Since then, we have lead and participated in events to build stakeholder engagement and understanding of how self-care supports MNCH and continue to cultivate stakeholders from leading global health organizations including WHO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Self-Care Foundation.

Equally important is our self-care work in communities. To date, White Ribbon Alliance has launched three self-care community implementation projects, and is developing a fourth project in Latin America. Each project is set up to address the unique challenges faced by that community, ranging from birth preparedness for pregnant women to training in respectful maternity care for health providers and nutritional deficits for mothers and newborns.

Self-care principles and practices actively address cross-sectoral priorities: it promotes social inclusion to invest in individuals and support community infrastructure, has positive implications for community prosperity and national infrastructure standards when leveraged to establish equity and dignity in health care as a social standard, and of course, addresses maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity. Although much of the work to date has included Ministry of Health, there is a new effort to engage officials from Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, and others.

No matter the sector, or with a focus on global, national or local-level policies and practices, self-care is particularly attractive because it is based on community-driven solutions that put women and children first. Benefits of self-care include increasing knowledge and understanding of health to improve health behavior​, moving people away from unnecessary dependence on health systems​, creating more efficient use of scarce resources by reducing unneeded provider visits to improve quality of care and cutting costs for health systems through illness prevention and self-management.

WRA and its partners call on all candidates to prioritize our primary recommendations for international bodies around self-care:

  • Update the definition of self-care and promote MNCH self-care as part of WHO’s work around patient-centered care and quality of care standards.
  • Support and prioritize a robust research, monitoring and evalutation agenda around MNCH self-care so we fully understand the long term feasibility and impact of community-based self-care.
  • Engage community-based women’s groups as key partners in promoting MNCH self-care and improving MNCH outcomes.

When pro­moted throughout the lifecycle and as an essential part of MNCH, self-care empowers women and their families with the knowledge, skills and confidence to proactively maintain healthy pregnancies, prevent complications, protect children’s health, defend their rights and identify emergencies, particu­larly at the community and individual levels.

As a global maternal and newborn health leader, we hope we can count on you to be a part of the self-care solution.

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