Representatives from ReLAB-HS and the Global Rehabilitation Alliance attended the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May 2022. Photo by Boya Nugrah

By Valentina Pomatto for ReLAB-HS

Learning, Acting and Building for Rehabilitation in Health Systems (ReLAB-HS) presented two statements at the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA), which took place in Geneva from 22 to 28 May. ReLAB-HS participated as part of the Humanity & Inclusion’s (HI) delegation to the WHA, represented by Valentina Pomatto (HI) and Lore Businge (Johns Hopkins University).

Leveraging Rehabilitation at the WHA

Topics emphasized on the agenda of this year’s WHA and prominent in discussions were: recovery from the pandemic and preparedness; sustainable financing for WHO; the new plan for non-communicable diseases; the health situation in Ukraine; and mental health. The WHA re-elected Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to second term as WHO Director-General.

Non-State Actors in official relations with WHO (NGOs, CSOs, philanthropies) have the possibility to contribute to the WHA debate by presenting public statements.

Although there was no specific agenda items on rehabilitation or disability, ReLAB-HS presented two statements: one in relation to the agenda items ‘WHO’s work in emergencies’ and one related to the agenda item ‘human resources for health’.

The public statements called for members states to

  • Build competence in disability and gender-responsive approaches among health care workers to respond to population needs without discrimination
  • Invest in additional rehabilitation professionals to be trained, appointed and supported at all levels of health service and governance
  • Foster a diverse health workforce and governance bodies, with emphasis on strong representation of persons with disabilities
  • Include rehabilitation and provision of assistive technology in health emergency responses, at all levels of care
  • Equip rehabilitation professionals to meet early rehabilitation needs in emergencies and those of people with pre-existing disabilities or chronic health conditions
  • Strengthen local rehabilitation capacity by passing a WHA resolution on rehabilitation.

Partners from the Global Rehabilitation Alliance, the International Society of Physical Rehabilitation Medicine, and SightSavers were present at the WHA too, and joined forces with us to leverage rehabilitation and disability-inclusion in the discussions.

Towards a WHA Resolution on Rehabilitation in 2023

Over the past years, HI and the Global Rehabilitation Alliance have advocated for a World Health Assembly’s Resolution on Rehabilitation. Four WHO Member States (Colombia, Israel, Kenya and Rwanda) submitted in 2021 a request to integrate a resolution on rehabilitation on the agenda of the 2022 WHA. This request was deferred due to the already hectic agenda of the WHA in 2022.

On the side of the WHA, we had meetings with governmental representatives from Rwanda, Indonesia, Israel, Botswana and Colombia, as well as with WHO staff to understand the way forward towards a WHA Resolution on Rehabilitation.

Both the WHO Secretariat and the resolution’s leading Member States confirmed that a resolution on rehabilitation is on the agenda for the 2023 WHA!

Negotiations on the drafting of the Resolution will be hosted by the leading Member States, between September and December 2022. During this period, civil society will be consulted, with the possibility to bring in the voices of rehabilitation users and professionals. A consolidated text should be presented to the WHO Executive Board in January 2023, and it should then be discussed and adopted at the WHA in May 2023.

There is clearly momentum around rehabilitation at the global level. Let’s make sure ReLAB-HS’s voice is heard!

ReLAB-HS is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development.