What is global health to physical therapists?

Global health, as the medical journal The Lancet put it in a recent editorial, “is fashionable”. Governments include it in their foreign policy, charities are established in its name, and academics study it. Yet this worthy cause is rarely defined. What does “global health” mean for physical therapy? 

WCPT and its professional partner Physiopedia both believe the profession has a major contribution to make in furthering global health – and that both organisations have a role to play. 

But given that, as The Lancet said, “the definition varies greatly and is often little more than a rephrasing of a common definition of public health or a politically correct updating of international health,” both organisations want to be clear on what it means for physical therapists.

Rachael Lowe, founder and managing director of Physiopedia – the online resource of physical therapy knowledge – decided to explore the question by signing up to an open online course with the University of Geneva taking an interdisciplinary overview of global health. She has been writing about what she has learned at http://www.physiospot.com/tag/global-health/?ps_pt=opinion

“Physiopedia’s mission is to contribute to improving global health through universal access to physiotherapy knowledge,” she said. “It enables those that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to further their knowledge of physical therapy, and this makes a contribution to global health.”

“I wanted to complete the course to gain an understanding of global health from lead players in this field and evaluate how this is relevant to Physiopedia and the physical therapy profession.”

One of the conclusions she drew from the course was that physical therapists needed to ensure they are appropriately skilled for the most important health issues facing patient populations – including non-communicable disease and age-related chronic conditions. 

However, she was disappointed that the contribution of rehabilitation to global health was not mentioned during the course. “This is a key aspect of our profession that already plays a major part in reducing the burden of many of the world’s health challenges. We must advocate at all levels for the role of our profession in reducing these health burdens, and we all have a role in doing this.” You can read more about her conclusions at http://www.physiospot.com/opinion/perspectives-on-global-health/

WCPT also believes that the contribution of physical therapy to global health needs to be better understood by those outside the profession. Catherine Sykes, WCPT’s Professional Policy Consultant, says that the information that organisations like WCPT and Physiopedia produce helps communicate the profession’s expertise widely.

“Global health issues affect the majority of the world’s population,” she said. “Global health reflects the fact that impacts in one country or region have ripple effects in others: for example, diseases cross borders, good models of practice in one region reverberate in another. It embraces global campaigns, such as those on non-communicable disease, disability and development and sustainable development goals.” 

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