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Landmark World Health Assembly Resolution will commit states to act on physical rehabilitation, enhancing lives and saving livelihoods

May 24, 2023

  • 2.4 billion people with an injury or illness would benefit from rehabilitation, helping them study, work, and care for their families. 

  • More than 50% lack access to these essential services in many of the world’s poorer countries, causing preventable complications and often barring them from accessing decent work.

  • Humanity & Inclusion has been a leading voice in a four-year campaign to see rehabilitation recognized as a global health priority.

  • A landmark Resolution will be discussed and then voted on by 194 member states at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, working to create a global standard and spark funding. (discussions began today) 

Around the world, 2.4 billion people are living with a health issue that would benefit from rehabilitation care. However, in some low- and middle-income countries, more than 50% of these individuals lack access to such essential services. 

The result is that millions of people are developing preventable, long-term disabilities, often stopping them participating in society and maintaining decent employment. Others, who already have complications from a condition, illness, or injury, see their symptoms worsen. 

In a global context of natural disasters, conflicts and an aging population, the lack of rehabilitation for all who need it is a serious public health issue and a question of human dignity, according to global disability organization, Humanity & Inclusion. 

On May 24, at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, 194 countries began discussions toward a landmark resolution vote, committing them for the first time to develop and strengthen rehabilitation in their health systems.  

The resolution – the highest level of international commitment -- sets out nine actions for governments. These include a commitment to introduce and integrate rehabilitation in health systems, increase services like physical and occupational therapy, improve access to artificial limbs and braces, strengthen the rehabilitation workforce, and develop training.  

By creating a global framework, government investment in rehabilitation services, which has been a major, historical barrier, is expected to follow, as well as donor and private funds.  

Humanity & Inclusion has been a leading voice in collective action to call for this resolution, collaborating with 17 other civil society organizations in the Global Rehabilitation Alliance, which was established in 2018. As a result, Humanity & Inclusion and partners were invited to input into the drafting of the resolution. 

Humanity & Inclusion is currently supporting countries where challenges to advance rehabilitation services remain significant. In almost all the 35 countries where Humanity & Inclusion has 62 rehabilitation projects, teams also accompany and support health authorities. 

For example, Humanity & Inclusion has... 

  • ...assisted Jordan’s Ministry of Health to develop its guidelines on rehabilitation services and is now supporting implementation. 
  • ...supported the provincial rehabilitation center in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, to provide quality services and train clinicians and management. 
  • ...partnered with the Ministry of Health in Madagascar, where teams have helped establish ortho-prosthetic and functional rehabilitation services. 

Humanity & Inclusion has found that by improving patients’ daily functioning and independence through rehabilitation, they have more access to education, employment and community activities. What’s more, the people who participate in our rehabilitaiton care need less long-term support from health workers and caregivers.  

Independent evidence demonstrates that rehabilitation shortens hospital stays, reduces readmissions and secondary health problems, which generates economic benefits for the health system and for households. 

Valentina Pomatto, Inclusive Development Advocacy Manager at Humanity & Inclusion, says: 

“Rehabilitation has long been overlooked in countries’ health systems. After an illness or an accident, some people develop a disability that could have been prevented with the help of rehabilitation.  

“Others see their mobility deteriorate without the right orthotic or prosthetic devices and in the absence of physical therapy that could have had a positive impact on their social and professional inclusion.  

“We know that nothing can change unless there is political will, a strong commitment to make things happen. This resolution at the 2023 World Health Assembly is a document that fixes this commitment into words and holds those in charge of delivering on this commitment accountable.”  

In Jordan, 13% of the population have disabilities but this rises to 23% in the refugee community. Ahmad is a Syrian refugee living in Jordan who had difficulty walking after a war injury affected his knee in 2011. In 2015, the construction worker fell from the third-floor accommodation block he was building, which caused a brain concussion, seizures, and worsened his knee problem. 

He said: “If there was easier access to services and I had started rehab from day 1, I could have avoided so many complications. I believe I could have avoided the accident that led to a bigger disability.” 


Notes to Editors 
*Pictures, case studies, spokespeople are available* 

Please contact Mica Bevington, [email protected], or 202-290-9264 

The World Health Assembly is the annual meeting of the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO), which adopts a number of resolutions. 

The Resolution 
The resolution on rehabilitation outlines nine actions/commitments. It does not set obligations, but it represents the political will of member states. The resolution also establishes a system for reporting and monitoring progress in implementing the commitments, so that members can be held accountable. 

The resolution demands member states to strengthen financing mechanisms for rehabilitation services and the provision of technical assistance. This requires dedicating appropriate budget to rehabilitation to meet the needs of the population, as well expanding the coverage of rehabilitation for example via public insurances, social protection schemes. 

For more information see this January 2023 document.

Humanity & Inclusion (HI) 
Since 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has implemented projects on rehabilitation and advocated for rehabilitation to be recognized as an essential service which can improve health and quality of life. 

Humanity & Inclusion has long-term expertise in rehabilitation across multiple countries and regions, setting up rehabilitation services in countries with no previous services. Teams train local rehabilitation specialists, and work with governments and the health sector to build capacity and eventually transfer ownership of these services.  

Examples of rehabilitation include: 

  • Preparing a person with an amputation to be able to use an artificial limb and making, fitting and refitting the prosthesis.
  • Positioning and splinting techniques to assist with skin healing, reduce swelling, and re-establish movement after a serious burn.
  • Physical exercise to improve muscle strength, voluntary movements, and balance in persons with stroke or Parkinson's disease.
  • Modifying an older person’s home environment to improve their safety and independence, and to reduce their risk of falls.
  • Educating a person with heart disease on how to exercise safely.

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