Global recognition for strengthening rehabilitation in health systems

21 Jun 2023

Contributed by Erica Bleakley, NCCTRC Allied Health & Rehabilitation Coordinator


The NCCTRC was excited to see the World Health Assembly’s (WHA) endorsement of a historic resolution on strengthening rehabilitation in health systems at the recent meeting in May 2023. The resolution highlights the critical importance of integrating rehabilitation into health systems across the continuum of primary to acute care, and places emphasis on the role of rehabilitation in emergency preparedness and response.

AUSMAT has continued to build and integrate its rehabilitation capability since 2016, recognising the value of deploying rehabilitation professionals within multi-disciplinary teams, and of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) landmark Emergency Medical Teams: Minimum Technical Standards for Rehabilitation. Recent deployment activity for COVID-19 has demonstrated the impact of rehabilitation professionals in enhancing AUSMAT’s multi-disciplinary care, and in supporting and working alongside national rehabilitation professionals in countries experiencing health emergencies.

The NCCTRC is a member of the WHO World Rehabilitation Alliance (WRA), which will be formally launched at a ceremony in Geneva in July 2023. The WRA is a global network of rehabilitation stakeholders focused on promoting rehabilitation as an essential health service, and is working to implement the goals of the Rehabilitation 2030 Initiative. The Alliance’s objectives include conducting evidence-based advocacy activities that increase awareness and demand for rehabilitation, networking and knowledge sharing, and creating a shared understanding and narrative around rehabilitation. The momentum created by the WHA’s resolution will propel the WRA’s important initiatives. As a member of the WRA’s emergencies work stream, the NCCTRC is looking forward to contributing to the widespread inclusion of rehabilitation services and professionals in emergency preparedness and response activities around the world.

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A key partner of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) funded Regional Engagement Program, the NCCTRC is fortunate to work alongside rehabilitation partners in the Western Pacific and Timor-Leste to strengthen health emergency preparedness and response capabilities. The Regional Engagement Program is working to ensure rehabilitation professionals and services, often forgotten in times of disaster and emergency, are prepared and supported to be active contributors to health system responses and improve the long-term outcomes of people with injuries, illnesses and disabilities.

The Regional Engagement team have developed and delivered the Rehabilitation in Disasters and Emergencies (RIDE) course in Timor-Leste and Fiji, and plan to deliver the course to other Western Pacific countries in 2023 and 2024. The RIDE course introduces rehabilitation professionals working across community and hospital settings to the concept of rehabilitation in disasters and emergencies, and stimulates action to improve preparedness and response.

A key challenge for progressing the integration of rehabilitation in emergencies is overcoming the widespread perception that rehabilitation is an optional ‘nice to have’ health service, or only commences upon the conclusion of acute medical and surgical treatment Evidence demonstrates rehabilitation is most effective when commenced as early as possible following injury or illness (including in critical care environments and emergency departments) and continued for as long as required (usually for much longer than other medical treatments). Preliminary findings from a recent operational research study of physical and functional rehabilitation after injury in emergencies show that 55% of study participants required assistance with personal care tasks and had not returned to pre-injury occupations at six months post-injury. Patients who received rehabilitation input within 48 hours of admission to hospital were more likely to be independent at discharge and three months post-injury.

Several countries in the Western Pacific have already made steps towards formalising the inclusion of rehabilitation in their disaster preparedness planning, and towards building the knowledge and skills; needed to respond in times of emergency. Due to the hard work and dedication of their rehabilitation leaders, these countries serve as motivating examples of progress.

As the Allied Health and Rehabilitation Coordinator for the NCCTRC and AUSMAT, I am very proud of the progress we have made in building our rehabilitation capability. I am incredibly lucky to work with our Western Pacific and Timor-Leste colleagues to raise the profile of rehabilitation in emergencies in those countries. There is still a lot of work to do to make sure that our planning and preparedness activities fulfil their potential when it really matters. Rehabilitation is an essential health service, and it is fantastic to have a World Health Assembly resolution to reinforce this important work.

  • For more information regarding this study, click here.

Erica Bleakley
NCCTRC Allied Health & Rehabilitation Coordinator

Erica is an Occupational Therapist with post-graduate qualifications in burn and trauma rehabilitation. She is the Allied Health & Rehabilitation Coordinator at the NCCTRC and is responsible for the development and coordination of AUSMAT’s rehabilitation capability. She is also a member of the NCCTRC’s Regional Engagement Program team. Erica has deployed on multiple occasions with AUSMAT in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including to PNG, Fiji, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands. She regularly provides input for World Health Organisation projects involving rehabilitation in emergencies and worked for Humanity & Inclusion (an international NGO) in Yemen in 2019.