Sick guy with dog People havepracticed basic self-care for years, but as access to care becomesmore challenging, such habits will take on greater importance.(Photo: Shutterstock)

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If there just aren't enough doctors and other health careprofessionals to go around, according to  new recommendations from the World HealthOrganization, maybe it's time to look in the mirror.

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Marginalized populations, as well as “people who are negativelyaffected by gender, political, cultural and power dynamics,” coulduse self-care as a complementary approach to health care. By WHOestimates, some 400 million people worldwide lack access to basichealth services, and by 2030 the world will be short ofhealth care workers by about 18 million. Given those challenges,self-care looks to be positioned for growth.

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Related: More employee sick leave equals betterself-care

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So what exactly is self-care? It's basically what people havebeen doing for generations in the absence of doctors and nurses:“the ability of individuals, families and communities to promotehealth, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness anddisability with or without the support of a health-careprovider.”

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And while its scope is far-ranging—health promotion; diseaseprevention and control; self-medication; providing care todependent persons; seeking hospital/specialist/primary care ifnecessary; and rehabilitation, including palliative care—thepurpose of educating people as to its existence and practice is totry to fill the breach between those who have access to treatmentand those who do not.

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In an effort to bring the practice of self-care to a broaderaudience, WHO has launched its first guideline on self-careinterventions for health; the first volume focuses on sexual andreproductive health and rights. It's aimed at all stakeholders,from individuals and communities in general to health professionalsand civil society, to “empower individuals, families andcommunities to optimize their health as advocates for policies thatpromote and protect health and well-being, as co-developers ofhealth and social services and as self-carers and caregivers.”

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WHO's guidelines are designed to explore the evidence forefficacy of self-care in various interventions that “can be doneoutside the conventional health sector,” and while it points outthat such measures are no substitute for “high-quality healthservices” or “a shortcut to achieving universal health coverage,”they are designed to broaden the view of what people can do forthemselves or for their communities in providing health assistancewhen conventional services are not available.

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Additional self-care volumes are planned, and WHO also intendsto establish a community of practice for self-care.

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