Research Spotlight

Expanding Healthcare to Include Self-care and Increase Access and Agency

The World Health Organization (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 healthcare provider.”  

Self-care emphasizes human rights, ethics, and gender equality and values the principles of choice and autonomy by empowering individuals to manage their own health per their needs, preferences, and values. 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of global contraception provision, exacerbating the barriers to access reproductive health services, leading to suspension of clinical services and disruption of supply chains. Critical to combatting this crisis is expanding healthcare to include self-care approaches to de-medicalize contraception. 

The Population Council’s Center for Biomedical Research is developing several self-administered contraceptives, including pills, micro-needle patches, vaginal rings, fast-dissolving vaginal inserts, and male contraceptive gels. These contraceptives are social products that increase individuals’ agency and autonomy. They give individuals control over their reproduction and, just as important, how they interact with the health system. 

In a commentary published in Contraception journal, Council researchers call on family planning advocates, donors, researchers, health educators, policymakers, and providers to invest in and commit to de-medicalizing contraception and enhancing the contraceptive method mix to ensure access and options for all individuals.

This requires consistent and more investment for: developing new products and refining existing methods; optimizing manufacturing to reduce costs; addressing uptake and supporting proper use; and increasing access outside of healthcare settings. Well-designed implementation science research to evaluate and expand successful programs is also critical.