July 16, 2023: Group picture with GRLI cohort 2
July 16, 2023: Group picture with GRLI cohort 2

By Hanaa Ahsan for ReLAB-HS

“One in every five people in Pakistan need access to rehabilitation services, and now more than ever, it is imperative that all sectors work together to mainstream rehabilitation services within health systems in Pakistan,” emphasized Dr. Abdulgafoor Bachani, Director of the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit (JH-IIRU) and Learning, Acting, and Building for Rehabilitation in Health Systems (ReLAB-HS), at the concluding ceremony of the Global Rehabilitation Leadership Institute.

The second offering of the Global Rehabilitation Leadership Institute (GRLI) course took place between June 12 and July 22, 2023, and included 42 stakeholders from Pakistan and Uganda. The course was organized by JH-IIRU, as part of the ReLAB-HS activity supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The course brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, representing government, health care, academia, media, and nongovernmental organizations, who serve as leaders in the fields of rehabilitation and health systems strengthening in their countries. The blended course—with virtual and in-person components—provided participants with the opportunity to build leadership capacity to address the need for accessible and high-quality rehabilitation and assistive technology (AT) services across health systems within their countries.

During the virtual component, held between June 12 and July 14, participants completed five online modules covering technical concepts on rehabilitation in health care, leadership concepts and principles, evidence-informed decision-making, implementation science, and rehabilitation interventions. Following this, participants completed in-person training between July 16 and 22, in Islamabad, Pakistan, a ReLAB-HS focus country. During the in-person training, technical presentations and panel discussions were focused on building the technical capacity of participants, covering topics including but not limited to leadership, systems thinking, implementation science, and advocacy. The distinguished lineup of local and global speakers and panelists included Dr. Cyrus Engineer, JH-IIRU, Dr. Sania Nishtar, Member of the Senate of Pakistan, and Dr. Nabeela Ali, Country Director of John Snow, Inc. (JSI) in Pakistan and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health alumna. Furthermore, participants engaged in practical application of leadership tools, an exchange of knowledge and shared experiences, and collaboration and networking opportunities with presenters, panelists, and teaching faculty.

Importantly, the Leadership Institute initiated high-level discussions on the need to strengthen rehabilitation service provision in Pakistan. His Excellency the President and First Lady of Pakistan, Dr. Arif Alvi and Mrs. Samina Alvi, hosted Johns Hopkins University faculty, partners from the World Health Organization (WHO) Pakistan, WHO Geneva, Uganda Ministry of Health, and the Curatio Foundation at the President’s House for a roundtable discussion on measures to strengthen health systems in Pakistan. Key strategies identified included increased attention on local rehabilitation needs by policymakers when setting health priorities, more efficient allocation and use of resources, and research and technologically-driven innovations. Following this roundtable meeting, the President and First Lady joined the concluding ceremony of the GRLI.

Speaking on rehabilitation issues in Pakistan, President Alvi, expressed his gratitude to Johns Hopkins University, USAID, and ReLAB-HS partners for prioritizing and driving the rehabilitation agenda forward in Pakistan. He acknowledged that access to rehabilitation services is becoming increasingly important, stating, “As the Pakistani population ages and treatment for diseases has improved, there will be a surge in the demand for rehabilitation services over the upcoming years.” To address this increased demand, President Alvi emphasized that effective rehabilitation service delivery will require action at the community and society-level, driven by state- and government-led leadership.

Alongside the GRLI, the Government of Pakistan’s Ministry of Planning and Development held a stakeholder’s consultation meeting in partnership with JH-IIRU to address the country’s key rehabilitation issues. Dr. Bachani and ReLAB-HS Technical Advisor, Dr. Abdul Ghaffar, led discussions with key rehabilitation stakeholders at this consultative meeting, highlighting the need to enhance affordability, leverage expert knowledge, and use data and evidence to improve rehabilitation and AT services for Pakistanis citizens who require them.

The second offering of the Leadership Institute has expanded the GRLI alumni network, broadening the reach of rehabilitation champions who are motivated and well-equipped to drive organizational change within their sectors to support the transformation of health systems in Pakistan and Uganda. More importantly, the engagement of the President and Government of Pakistan with the GRLI has fostered political commitment and will. This will pave the way for Pakistan to address the growing burden of rehabilitation needs and provides a model that ReLAB-HS hopes to implement in other countries.