UN Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka addresses the conference in Australia. Picture: Mark Coulson/makinghealthglobal.com.au
UN Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka addresses the conference in Australia. Picture: Mark Coulson/makinghealthglobal.com.au

UN conference reveals the impact of the global recession

Jonathan Kruger of the Australian Physiotherapy Association attended a United Nations meeting on the Millennium Development Goals on behalf of WCPT. Here he recounts how he found out about the devastating effect the global financial crisis is having on physical therapists in developing countries.

Over the last two years, as the world has weathered the effects of the financial crisis, much attention in developed countries has been inwardly focused on concerns in our regions – such as bank bailouts, mortgage stress and increasing unemployment.

Although the crisis has had a very real impact on the lives of many physical therapists in developed countries, it is worth reflecting on how it has affected colleagues living in developing countries. The opportunity to reflect in this way was provided at the 63rd annual United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Government Organisations conference, which I attended on behalf of WCPT. It was held in Melbourne, Australia in late August, and its title was “Advance Global Health:  achieve the Millennium Development Goals”.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) arose after world leaders came together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in September 2000 to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration. This committed their respective nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and set out a series of time bound targets – with a deadline of 2015. 

These targets have become known as the Millennium Development Goals. They were to:

  • eradicate extreme hunger and poverty;
  • achieve universal primary education;
  • promote gender equality and empower women;
  • reduce child mortality;
  • improve maternal health;
  • combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
  • ensure environmental sustainability;
  • develop a global partnership for development.

At the recent Melbourne meeting, delegates were informed that the financial crisis is having an impact in several key areas of the MDGs, including those related to hunger, child and maternal health, gender equality, access to clean water, and disease control. It is expected to continue to affect development prospects well beyond 2015.

As a result of the crisis, 53 million more people will remain in extreme poverty by 2015 than otherwise would have. This is a staggering figure.

Even so, it was reported that the number of extreme poor could total around 920 million five years from now, marking a significant decline from the 1.8 billion people living in extreme poverty in 1990. So what does this have to do with the physical therapy profession?

It was clear, from what was said at the conference, that the physical therapy workforce globally has a key role to play in working toward achieving the MDGs – particularly in eradicating extreme poverty as it relates to physical disability.

In many parts of the world, the links between disability and poverty are a reality of everyday life for physical therapists. Disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty – particularly in developing countries.

Physical therapists have long been acknowledged as important providers of services for people with a disability. An appropriate level of physical therapy can promote social inclusion through optimising a person’s function and by encouraging participation in the economic and social life of the community.  Participation is, however, dependent on a number of factors including:

  • equitable access to health care and rehabilitation services;
  • optimal access to aids and equipment essential for function;
  • environmental access, including appropriate transport;
  • access to suitable employment;
  • adequate income support;
  • access to appropriate education;
  • access to appropriate accommodation and support.

In partnership with other stakeholders, the global physical therapy community should be working to decrease disability as a key response to the challenge of addressing poverty and achieving the MDGs.

Next year, at the 16th International WCPT Congress in Amsterdam, there will be a focused symposium on “Physical therapy leadership in disability and HIV: sharing international perspectives”.  This will be an ideal forum for interested physical therapists to meet and discuss ways in which the profession can work together to help achieve the MDGs so that world poverty is cut by half, millions of lives are saved, and billions more people have the opportunity to benefit from the global economy.

Key facts on the MDGs

Progress since 1990:

280 million fewer people living in extreme poverty

40 million more children in school

3 million more children survive each year

2 million people now receive HIV/AIDS treatment

Challenges ahead

1 billion people in extreme poverty

75 million children not in school

10 million children die each year

550,000 women die from treatable complications of pregnancy and birth

Over 33 million people infected with HIV/AIDS, 2 million die each year

Half of the developing world lacks sanitation.