Physiotherapy in disasters (FS-15)

Focused symposium (FS)
Monday 3 July 2017, 13:45-15:15
Ballroom East

Harvey A1,2Skelton P3Pokhrel S4,5Sheppard P6,7
1ADAPT - Chartered Physiotherapists in International Health and Development (UK), Birmingham, United Kingdom, 2Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, Birmingham, United Kingdom, 3Handicap International UK, London, United Kingdom, 4Nepal Physiotherapy Association, Kathmandu, Nepal, 5Handicap International Nepal, Kathmandu, United Kingdom, 6Global Health Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, Ontario, Canada, 7International Organisation for Migrations, Nepal, Nepal

Learning objectives

  1. To describe the changing profile of disaster survivors and subsequent advances in the involvement of physiotherapists in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, with particular reference to the recent experience of Nepal.
  2. To explore the role of WCPT member associations in their involvement in disaster preparedness activities and subsequent response
  3. To understand the relevance of recent WCPT briefing paper on physiotherapy in emergencies, as well as minimum standards for physiotherapists responding to international disasters


This symposium resulted from the collaboration of international organisations who worked closely together on the ground and continue to do so since the devastating earthquake in Nepal of April 2015.

The WCPT briefing paper, 'the role of physical therapists in disaster management' (1) has highlighted the increasing recognition and importance of physical therapists in disaster response, but also the evolution of a wider role for us as professionals within the entire cycle of disaster risk reduction including preparedness and recovery phases.

The most recent major rehabilitation response to a sudden onset disaster was that following the earthquake which tragically struck Nepal in April 2015, where physiotherapy played a key role to the some 22,000 injured in the coming months (2). This presentation aims to highlight the essential role that physiotherapists (both national and international) played in the preparedness activities, and the subsequent response and recovery phases following the Nepal earthquake.

The Nepal Physiotherapy Association will elaborate on how Nepalese physiotherapists were central to health sector preparedness strategies which are considered to have saved life and limb, as well as focusing on their vital role in the response and recovery co-ordination. We anticipate that lessons learnt from such preparedness activities will be of key significance to other countries at high risk of sudden onset disasters.

The presentation will further focus on how physiotherapy in the recovery phase currently underway in Nepal can inform the response in future disasters. Participants will explore findings from a current study identifying the rehabilitation barriers and needs in post-disaster settings and discuss the development and care delivery model of the step-down care facility as one option to improve the continuum of care in post-disaster response and recovery. We will also present data on the effects of rehabilitation at the step down facility on disability levels.

Finally, the World Health Organisation, the Global Health Cluster Lead Agency, has published minimum standards for rehabilitation within Foreign Medical Teams (3). Implications from this document will be that an increased number of physiotherapists from middle and high income countries will be required to deploy with international medical teams. The United Kingdom Emergency Medical Team is breaking ground as the first of its kind to have a fully integrated register of trained physiotherapists and occupational therapists ready to deploy either as part of a multidisciplinary team, or as a specialised 'cell' in the event of a disaster. The development, successes and challenges of this national platform, as well as the UK EMT experience of deployment to the Phillipines, Gaza and indeed Nepal, will be shared to advocate for the inclusion of such a register in all country response teams.

The symposium will provide a forum for participants to learn from the experience of the Nepal earthquake, and offer suggestions to physiotherapists from other high risk countries for incorporating disaster preparedness at national association level, organisational and personal levels.

Implications / Conclusions

With each large scale international disaster, experience within the physiotherapy community grows. A great deal of work is being done at country and organisational levels to prepare physiotherapists to respond to such disasters. National physiotherapy associations too have a vital role to play in this arena. It is essential in such a symposium that the international community of the WCPT is connected in learning from recent experiences and used as a platform to share innovation and best practice.

Speakers in this symposium have a wealth of humanitarian field and program experience, but central to the essence of the symposium is that they are also extremely active in their respective national professional associations. All are working closely to try and establish better links for physiotherapists in this field and thus develop a truly international community for disaster response from within the WCPT.


  1. Physiotherapy in emergencies
  2. Disaster risk reduction
  3. Humanitarian Response

Funding acknowledgements

Not applicable

Relevance to physical therapy globally

The role of physiotherapists in responding to emergencies continues to evolve. There is an increasing recognition of the importance of rehabilitation in a range of humanitarian settings, while an increased focus on areas such as disaster preparedness, means that physiotherapists have opportunities to make significant contributions to these fields. This symposium exposes the depth and breadth of these opportunities, along side current evidence and the scope for expansion to other country programmes.

Target audience

Physiotherapists working in countries at risk of disaster, those who are interested in emergency response, disaster preparedness or working internationally


Programme subject to change