How self-care leads to healthier communities and a healthier planet

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Julie Van Ongevalle, Executive Vice President, Consumer Healthcare, Sanofi


  • Moving from a sick care to a self-care approach can have a major positive impact on people, communities, and the planet.
  • Various forward-thinking initiatives are bringing a more self-care focussed dimension to health models.

We are living in an uncertain world – ever-changing, ever-evolving, and at a pace never seen before.

Geopolitical conflicts, inflation, rising costs, and climate change are among the many global issues we are grappling with today. This is all set against a backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic from which global healthcare systems and economies are struggling to recover. The world is changing, and consequentially, so too must our approach to health care.

Health and our environment

If this pandemic has taught us something, it is that health is no longer a set of symptoms to be treated in isolation. Health is inextricably linked to the world around us.

Here are a few examples.

Allergies are no longer seen as just a “seasonal” condition because warmer temperatures and CO2 give plants longer growing seasons. This contributes to longer pollen seasons and affects the frequency and severity of asthma and allergic rhinitis.

We don’t pay enough attention to our gut health, which regulates hormones, mood, and the immune system. One-third of the world’s population has some form of digestive symptoms, most common being bloating and constipation, according to the World Gastroenterology Organization (WGO). One underdiagnosed digestive condition is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and it is estimated that 10-15% of the world’s population suffer from this. And as more and more countries adopt unhealthy diets and lifestyles, a subsequent increase in IBS prevalence rates is expected.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

Common pain conditions – from headache to back pain – have an adverse effect on work. Lost productive time from common pain conditions among active workers costs an estimated $61.2 billion per year in the US. Low Back Pain (LBP) continues to be the leading reason for Years Lost to Disability (YLTD) across the world, according to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study – that’s about 1 in 10 people.

While most pain sufferers report only mild pain, they cost their employers 10% of total productive time — the equivalent of two lost workdays every month. With many jobs requiring sitting all day, that number could rise exponentially.

Allergies, constipation, and pain are examples of common, everyday conditions aggravated by lifestyle and the environment. Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen, however, a change in behaviour where individuals are, more than ever, willing to take a proactive role in their own health and well-being. To sustain and reinforce this behaviour, governments and industries must co-build a future that empowers people toward proactive self-care.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to encourage healthy living in cities?

It can be tough to stay healthy when living in a big city. The Forum is responding through its Healthy Cities and Communities initiative by working to create innovative urban partnerships, which are helping residents find a renewed focus on their physical and mental health.

In 2020, the project continued to expand to new locations and has effectively helped communities impacted by COVID-19. Our work is continuing with concrete actions in 2021 where best practices and learnings from all partner cities will be shared, allowing other cities to replicate and scale.

In Jersey City, USA the Healthy Cities and Communities initiative is working with AeroFarms to deliver locally sourced vertically farmed greens to people in need. The initiative is also helping homeless people who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

In Mumbai, India (home to more than 20 million people) the initiative is working with the local startup community and engaging them on multiple sanitation challenges.

Learn more and find out how to join the initiative in our impact story.

A self-care health model for the future

We need to move away from sick care and develop an integrated and universally accessible health model built on primary health care and public health support. The World Health Organization says primary health care is healthcare aimed at an individual’s physical, mental and social well-being across their lifetime. It is people-centred rather than disease-centred. This includes empowering individuals, families and communities to take charge of their own health.

And the consumer healthcare industry can contribute to this objective by playing a stronger role by bringing healthcare closer to people and enabling better self-care. They should enable better self-care. This will have a halo effect on improving care for communities and the planet.

How do we make this happen? Healthcare organizations should lead with purpose. At Sanofi, it an our immense privilege to help people take care of themselves and their loved ones by giving them science-based, consumer-inspired products. To truly make a difference, however, we must make these accessible. Self-care must be ubiquitous everywhere. And for that, we need partners.

The importance of cooperation

We require coherent healthcare policies and regulations to support self-care. Governments and health authorities need to recognize the power of empowering their citizens to self-care because it ultimately brings huge socio-economic benefits including improved quality of life, increased productivity, and an easing of the financial resource pressures.

A new report by the Global Self-Care Federation shows the value and benefits of self-care:

The data is compelling. And our industry recognizes that with greater accessibility to self-care comes greater responsibility. We will not compromise scientific evidence or quality and remain committed to innovation for the benefit of our consumers. We need to champion greater health literacy amongst consumers. Health literacy is a fundamental catalyst for change, ensuring that individuals understand and act upon credible health information to become active self-managers of their health.

But we don’t want to stop there.

Important initiatives for promoting self-care

Bringing health into the hands of people across the world means not only better self-care for individuals but also for our planet. So, we’ve set out to bring this to life through purpose-driven brands which aim to make a positive impact on people, communities and the planet.

The Get Game Ready initiative, our collaboration with the Shaquille O’Neill Foundation, helped fund 21 US school athletic programs affected by COVID-19 budget cuts. The program enabled students to continue connecting on the playing field, supporting their physical and mental health.

Another initiative, the Comebaq Court project, set out to refurbish inner-city public basketball courts, giving young athletes the chance to get together to train, have fun and meet other kids. This highlights the vital role of bringing communities together through healthy activities.

In Mexico, a collaboration with Save The Children, led to an educational program on hygiene and nutrition habits to fight childhood mortality. This was rolled out to well over 100,000 people, proving the power of self-empowerment. Better health literacy helps people make educated decisions about their self-care and the care of others.

Greening Australia, an eco-restoration charity, meanwhile, has set out a detailed roadmap toward carbon neutrality as part of its commitment to re-green cities and urban spaces. It includes a whole range of innovative ideas, such as the installation of solar panels into manufacturing facilities, removing blister packs and making visible the provenance of raw materials to show they are sustainably sourced. Such initiatives will help us reach carbon neutrality, limit our environmental footprint, and improve the environmental profile of products.

In these uncertain times, better self-care helps with certainty. Because it is the kind of self-care that ultimately goes beyond “me” to “we”. It is purpose-led action that people are demanding today. The consumer healthcare industry is committed to this. But we can certainly do immeasurably more in partnership with government, civil society, healthcare professionals, and industry partners.

Count on me. Count on us.

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