Until the next International Self-Care Day

An annual opportunity to put a spotlight on the benefits of self-care.

A regional view: self-care in Latin America and the Caribbean

Increased health literacy and education in areas with fewer financial, geographical, and regulatory barriers to guarantee responsible self-medication is a necessity.

A strong example of the critically important role self-care can play in a healthcare system can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The population of the region is around 640m, and healthcare accessibility significantly varies from low to high. For example, only 12% of the Honduran population has affordable and accessible healthcare, in comparison with upwards of 95% in Brazil and Argentina. With many countries falling somewhere in between.

Overall, the results show that healthcare expenditure per capita is relatively low in our region, especially in Nicaragua and Bolivia. There is low to moderate health services provision and access to healthcare in the region is impacted by gaps in availability of providers, including physicians and pharmacists, as well as a shortage of hospital beds.

This impacts patients as well as putting the providers that operate in under serviced areas under stress.

Natural population growth as well as increased life expectancy are placing even greater strain on already limited healthcare resources – making it critical that self-care practices are adopted to alleviate the pressure. This kind of pressure on providers & resources leads to a lower quality of care for patients, which we need to strive to avoid.

The levels of health literacy are also commonly limited in this region, and it is evident that it is particularly affected by social inequalities, such as poverty. Recent surveys conducted in the region demonstrate that people with low health literacy were 37% more likely to have poor adherence to medication compared with people with higher health literacy.

Self-care in the region
Self-care in Latin America and the Caribbean is represented by a variety of different concepts, such as self-medication with over-the-counter (OTC) products or traditional medicines. For 84% of people in Latin America self-care plays a very relevant role, however, 52% indicated that they do not have the appropriate level of knowledge to take self-care actions with confidence. In this regard, increased health literacy and education in areas with fewer financial, geographical, and regulatory barriers to guarantee responsible self-medication is a necessity.

Yearly savings through self-care in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Yearly savings through self-care in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Progressing forwards for healthcare
Achieving these sorts of health outcomes should be considered critically important for the future of the region. To accomplish this, we have three key recommendations for the future:

1 Ensure individual empowerment and increase health literacy through increased awareness and responsibility towards responsible self-care, through digital and self-care literacy.

2 Enhance the use of communication technologies to provide credible information.

3 For individuals to practice effective self-care there is a need for increased access to self-care products to reduce the economic constraints on public health systems.

Health literacy is a fundamental catalyst for change, to ensure individuals understand and act upon credible health information to become active self managers of their health. Ensuring patients are health literate gives them the best chance for success in treating their ailments. We should strive to ensure quality healthcare provision, but also to achieve a health literate population that knows which options are available and which treatments are feasible or needed.

It’s important to ensure quality healthcare and a health-literate population that knows which options are available and which treatments are feasible.
It’s important to ensure quality healthcare and a health-literate population that knows which options are available and which treatments are feasible.

National governments and international organisations should mobilise resources to increase health literacy standards globally through awareness campaigns and educational programmes, enabling patient success. Supporting these should be coherent healthcare and regulatory policies. These are required to maintain self-care within a holistic healthcare system. Without these, a healthcare system will not be able to thrive and function at the highest level.

Bringing patients forwards as a priority needs to be critical for the future of healthcare in the Latin American region. Ensuring they have access to the education and medication that they need to properly manage their health as participants in a holistic healthcare system is critical.

by Juan Thompson

Director General of ILAR