Photo credit: WHO
Photo credit: WHO

By Gilliane McShane and Valentina Pomatto for ReLAB-HS

After years of efforts to bring rehabilitation into the fold of what is considered essential health care, rehabilitation advocates saw the successful adoption of the first ever international resolution on rehabilitation at the Seventy-Sixth World Health Assembly on May 24, 2023. This resolution aspires to expand and integrate rehabilitation services at all levels of health care by calling on national and international actors to strengthen health systems for the sustained provision of these essential services.

The passing of this resolution, “Strengthening rehabilitation in health systems,” is a result of concerted international efforts by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States and civil society organizations. Through our advocacy efforts, Learning, Acting, and Building for Rehabilitation in Health Systems (ReLAB-HS) engaged with global rehabilitation stakeholders and Member States to build consensus around the need for this global initiative.

Recognizing rehabilitation as essential health care

Though the resolution is not legally binding, it serves as the highest-level commitment toward rehabilitation, providing a policy framework to guide efforts to strengthen rehabilitation and its integration into health systems. The resolution outlines commitments that Member States, other stakeholders (e.g., nongovernmental organizations, academia, and the private sector), and the WHO can work toward, such as strengthening financing mechanisms, and establishes reporting and monitoring systems to promote accountability and spur action.

The move to adopt this resolution is profound. It is estimated that 2.4 billion people globally would benefit from rehabilitation, and in low- and middle-income countries, more than 50 percent of people do not receive the rehabilitation services they require—a need that continues to grow due to injury and illness from communicable and noncommunicable disease. Until now, rehabilitation had not been prioritized in the global health agenda in such a meaningful way.

Prioritizing rehabilitation demonstrates a commitment to health that goes beyond reducing mortality and morbidity. It helps ensure that people can live, function, and participate fully in life. Without access to rehabilitation services, health conditions can deteriorate or lead to additional complications, reducing a person’s ability to participate in work, education, and other aspects of daily living. Investing in rehabilitation is strategic as it yields both social and economic benefits.

The adoption of the resolution signals an important shift to recognizing rehabilitation as integral to Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and demonstrates the political commitment to mobilize efforts and allocate resources to improve service availability and accessibility.

Building consensus, demonstrating commitment  

ReLAB-HS is proud to have played an active role in advocating for and developing the resolution on rehabilitation. Our goal, “Support the strengthening of health systems that are responsive to growing needs for rehabilitation across the lifespan,” is aligned with the resolution on rehabilitation, and our activities and continued efforts will support the implementation of the resolution in our focus countries by:

  • Supporting political will. Through our ongoing advocacy efforts, we will continue to engage with national and sub-national governments and other rehabilitation and health system stakeholders to promote the recognition of rehabilitation and assistive technology (AT) as essential health care and to support prioritization of these services in health system agendas.


  • Supporting strong leadership at all levels of the health system. Through our Global Rehabilitation Leadership Institute (GRLI), we will continue to strengthen the capacity of local rehabilitation and health system stakeholders to become resident champions for rehabilitation.


  • Co-designing person-centered interventions. Drawing from our research on user experiences with rehabilitation and AT services and through engagement of service users in consultation workshops and stakeholder meetings, we will continue to co-design with country partners interventions that are contextually appropriate and responsive to the needs of individuals and communities.


  • Strengthening workforce development. Using the International Rehabilitation Education and Training Toolkit (IRETT) developed by ReLAB-HS in collaboration with international rehabilitation stakeholders, we will continue to support our focus countries in strengthening professional regulation locally and nationally and in enhancing rehabilitation programs for both academic and non-academic training institutions. Additionally, we will continue to provide opportunities for continuing professional development for rehabilitation and health professionals through the Plus eLearning platform.


  • Supporting monitoring and accountability. In collaboration with the WHO and national governments, we will continue to support the integration of rehabilitation indicators into health information systems to enable the collection of critical data that will measure progress and identify areas for improvement.

Beyond these core initiatives, we will conduct activities specifically designed to support local and national advocacy for the implementation of the resolution, which include:

  • Developing and disseminating a guidance note for in-country advocates to support understanding of the resolution, so it can be used to stimulate local and national policy changes
  • Hosting webinars to introduce the guidance and how it can be used
  • Supporting country teams and local partners in their engagement and advocacy efforts

The World Health Assembly’s adoption of the resolution on rehabilitation serves as a critical step toward framing the role of rehabilitation in the global health agenda. This formal recognition by the World Health Assembly elevates rehabilitation and frames commitments to take action. Political will is central to successful implementation and must also be accompanied by leadership at all levels of the health systems, in communities, and in overlapping sectors to develop a shared vision, build momentum, and coordinate efforts to effect meaningful change.