The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world, disrupting the lives of many families and institutions. However, there are lessons to be learned and the unspoken issues need to be brought to the fore. The biggest problem that societies can no longer ignore is matching the demand for emergency and routine health services with available resources. We have seen the collapse of healthcare systems around the world, with none of the usual differences between developing and developed countries.
A key lesson learned from the way health care was delivered during the early waves of the pandemic is the need to move away from the current reactive service model followed by health systems. As people everywhere exercised the utmost caution to protect themselves from COVID, consumer behavior has remarkably shifted towards preventative health care. This is the perfect opportunity to focus on a healthcare delivery model based on improving consumer health literacy, to equip them with the knowledge to prevent and self-manage minor illnesses. and diagnosed chronic diseases.
The concept of self-care is relatively new in India and is best understood as a practice aimed at improving health and lifestyle on a daily basis. The WHO defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health care provider”.
Self-care is in no way an alternative to medical advice. The goal of self-care is to reduce reliance on already overburdened healthcare systems by giving consumers the appropriate knowledge and basic tools (such as digital self-care tools on your smartwatch) to care of themselves. Studies have shown that approximately 90% of the care a person needs to manage a chronic disease must come directly from the patient.. Self-care also allows better management of health infrastructures and resources by directing them towards the treatment of long-term conditions, emergency care and end-of-life care.
Let’s take an example of one of the most common health problems we face – headaches. The impact of the pandemic is reflected in the findings of the “Saridon Headache Report 2021” which states that 90% of urban Indians suffer from stress-induced headaches. Since headache is not a disease but a symptom, in most cases it is self-managing. However, most Indians choose to endure the pain instead of treating it with medication due to many prevailing myths regarding headache medication. For people to be motivated to treat their symptoms rather than carry them or hide them at work, there is a need to foster health literacy that can empower them to take care of themselves with the right knowledge.
According to the “Value of Over-the-Counter Medicines in India” study conducted in 2021 by the Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), illness occurs on average at least 4 times a year in an individual; total spending in 5L+ cities in India alone (123 million consumers) is INR 35,820 cr per year. In India, where health insurance penetration is still in the single digits, it all adds up to an out-of-pocket expense that is a huge burden on our people, while the reliability of medical professionals for common ailments increases the burden of our health system. .
Responsible and knowledgeable self-medication to treat minor ailments and take preventive health care will create an OTC-receptive environment, if complemented by a strong policy with transparent guidelines for promoting and selling over-the-counter products. . This will significantly reduce out-of-pocket health care expenses.
Along with well-defined regulatory reforms, imparting the right knowledge and tools is essential to empower consumers to take proactive and informed action to undertake preventative measures and manage minor illnesses. As a global leader in consumer health, we consider it essential to educate consumers about self-care, make everyday health products easily accessible and enforce self-medication measures safe and responsible solutions to transform the daily health of consumers.
Self-care, if implemented responsibly, will help achieve positive health outcomes for individuals and achieve significant efficiencies within health systems. Making self-care a global political priority will help achieve the vision of universal healthcare, a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) with a target timeline of 2030. There is no better time to put self-care at the top of the global health policy agenda, with sustained, comprehensive and personalized interventions designed for specific countries and regions.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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