Developing Physio module director Katy Nicol (left) teaches in Dharamsala, India

Top software scientists support international rehab initiative

Scientists and software engineers at CERN in Geneva are collaborating with voluntary organisation Developing Physio to provide rehab education and research in countries including Nepal, Burma and India.

Engineers at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have developed hardware and software for Developing Physio, a voluntary organisation providing education for physical therapists in countries with no access to rehab facilities or research.

Developing Physio were invited to pose a challenge for participants at this year’s Hackathon, an annual event where interdisciplinary teams work on creative technological solutions for humanitarian and social issues.

The challenge was to design a non-linguistic curriculum - an app which can work offline - for physical therapists working in areas including paediatrics, amputee rehabilitation and stroke. This allows for safe assessment, correct diagnosis and effective treatment. 

“We were honoured to be approached by CERN,” says physiotherapist Fiona Lyndsay. “We’re developing a non-linguistic teaching curriculum which physiotherapists can take into communities to teach, test and supervise from.”

The resulting prototype has propelled Developing Physio forward by a year in their ongoing project to gather patient data and treatment records from rural communities where internet access is limited. The app can also collect, store and send important research data, to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of the teaching modules.

“Our modules have been written by specialist physiotherapists who have extensive field experience,” says Lyndsay, who has previously worked in Tibet, India and Georgia. “The key is to make it accessible to anyone who wants rehabilitation who can’t access it.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries, and that 62 countries (one third of the world) have no access to rehabilitation.

The CERN collaboration, described as a ‘game changer’, allows Developing Physio to identify in detail the research they need to gather in order to establish sustainable rehabilitation facilities.

“It’s education,” says Lyndsay. “We’re not providing equipment. We feel that everything can be provided, treatment-wise, with a pair of hands is the best way forward for the communities we want to serve.”

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