February 27, 2017 (Toronto, Ont.)—New recommendations to improve rehabilitation services around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries, were released earlier this month by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH) played a key role in the development of these recommendations.
IWH was one of three research organizations contracted by WHO to canvas the evidence on the best ways to strengthen and expand the availability of quality rehabilitation services. The goal of rehabilitation is to achieve the best possible outcome among people with an injury, illness or condition by restoring their ability to live, work and learn as fully as possible. The Institute’s team, led by IWH Scientist Dr. Andrea Furlan, provided the research behind five of the nine final recommendations.
“As the WHO has noted, the global aging population and the increased number of people with chronic conditions and traumatic injuries means more people are living with disabilities than ever before,” says Furlan. “As a result, health services around the world need to allocate resources not only to reducing mortality, but also to improving access to quality and affordable rehabilitation services. I was proud to be part of a team that helped provide the research that pointed to ways that countries can best provide these services.”
According to the WHO, its report Rehabilitation in health systems provides “evidence-based, expert-informed” recommendations to guide government leaders and health policy-makers in developing and extending rehabilitation services. The recommendations are also relevant to workforce and training sectors, as well as people involved in rehabilitation research, service delivery, financing and assistive products.
The recommendations are aimed in large part at poorer countries where, historically, rehabilitation has been a lower priority. "Currently, there is a significant unmet need for rehabilitation services in these countries, and it is frequently undervalued in their health systems," says Furlan. "There will be a big impact if countries choose one of these recommendations to implement."
That said, Furlan adds that the recommendations resonate in Canada as well, given that rehabilitation plays an important role in keeping people in an aging population independent for longer, and helping people with chronic and acute injuries participate in school and work. “Even in this country, we need to ensure quality rehabilitation services are integrated into our national health plans and budgets,” she says.
Dr. Furlan and Emma Irvin, Director of Research Operations at IWH and a member of the research team on the WHO project, will be discussing the WHO’s recommendations for improving rehabilitation services globally, as well as the evidence behind them, at a seminar being held at the Institute for Work & Health on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.