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In a move strongly supported by APTA and World Physiotherapy, the World Health Organization has adopted what it describes as a landmark resolution to strengthen rehabilitation in health systems worldwide. The statement — the first-ever official WHO acknowledgement of the global need for rehab — calls for all health systems to increase support for and access to rehabilitative services.

The nonbinding commitment calls on WHO member states to raise awareness and "build national commitment" for rehabilitation, strengthen government funding for rehab, expand access across communities and through the continuum of care, build provider rehab skills and understanding, and promote research and investment, among other activities. The need for change is clear, according to the WHO resolution, "considering that the need for rehabilitation is increasing due to the epidemiological shift from communicable to noncommunicable diseases." The resolution was developed by Israel and cosponsored by 20 countries including the U.S.

The resolution is in part the result of a global disability action plan adopted by WHO in 2014, according to a report issued by the WHO director general. At that time, however, "rehabilitation was commonly perceived as exclusively for persons with disabilities or physical impairments."

As far as WHO is concerned, that attitude has shifted and is captured in the organization's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Now, WHO positions rehabilitation "as a core aspect of effective health care, which should be available to anyone with an acute or chronic health condition, impairment or injury that limits her or his functioning in everyday activities, whether temporarily or permanently," according to the report.

"Timely rehabilitation, along side other health interventions, leads to better health outcomes," the director general writes. "Rehabilitation is therefore now recognized as being integral to universal health coverage, along with health promotion, prevention, treatment, and palliation, and not as a strategy needed only by persons with disabilities."

APTA President Roger Herr, PT, MPA, returning from the general meeting of World Physiotherapy as APTA's delegate, agrees with the WHO's characterization of the resolution as "historic."

"The WHO resolution truly is forward-thinking, and an embrace of what rehab providers have known for decades — that the services we provide are needed by a wide range of people, and that expanding access will have a significant impact on public health. APTA applauds WHO's stated commitment, as well as the overwhelming support the resolution received among member countries."


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