Disability and rehabilitation

WHO begins work on first-ever international Guidelines on health-related rehabilitation

On 7-8 November 2012, ten international experts from the Guideline Development Group met for the first time in Geneva to commence work to develop the Guidelines on health-related rehabilitation. In opening the meeting and welcoming participants Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability (VIP) Department at WHO, acknowledged the diverse range of expertise and experience within the group. He thanked the governments of Australia and the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil for their support in enabling this work to go ahead, and stressed that he considers the work to develop the Guidelines as the most important task for VIP.

The Guidelines will provide evidence-informed recommendations and guidance to governments and other relevant actors on how to develop, expand and improve the quality of rehabilitation services, particularly in less resourced settings, in line with the recommendations from the World report on disability. The integration and decentralization of rehabilitation services within existing health systems will be a key focus of the Guidelines, as will addressing the issues of availability, accessibility, affordability, appropriateness, acceptability and quality of rehabilitation services.

The WHO/World Bank World report on disability estimates that approximately 1 billion people or 15% of the world's population experience disability, of which 110-190 million adults experience very significant difficulties in functioning. The numbers of people with disability and those who would benefit from rehabilitation are expected to increase due to global population aging, increased incidence of chronic diseases, and a range of other factors.

For some people with disabilities rehabilitation is essential to being able to participate in education, the labour market, and civic life. Access to rehabilitation can decrease the consequences of disease or injury, increase activity and participation levels, improve health and quality of life and decrease use of health services. While global data on the need for rehabilitation, the type and quality of measures provided and estimates of unmet need do not exist, national-level data reveal large gaps in the provision of and access to rehabilitation services in many low and middle-income countries.

Article 26 (Habilitation and Rehabilitation) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires States Parties to “take effective and appropriate measures to enable persons with disabilities to attain and maintain maximum independence, full physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life”. It also calls on States Parties to organize, strengthen and extend comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services and programmes. The Guidelines on health-related rehabilitation are intended to support States Parties and others to implement the rehabilitation aspects of the CRPD and serve as a bridge between the recent World report on disability and the Community-based rehabilitation guidelines.

The Guidelines are due to be published towards the end of 2014.