According to the WHO 2011 World Report on Disability, around 15 percent of the global population has some form of disability (i.e. more than 1 billion people). Prevalence of disability is higher in resource-poor countries compared to high-income countries. The global estimate for disability is increasing due to ageing populations, the spread of chronic diseases and improvements in the methodologies used to calculate disability.
There are many ways that physiotherapists can participate in global health work beyond direct patient care, including advocating for and developing rehabilitation programmes (Alappat et al., 2007), as well as continuing to be more involved in the international trend to implement Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) as a strategy for sustainable and effective development of the health and social sectors.
The question of what skills, knowledge and qualities must physiotherapists possess in order to do ethical and effective global health work remains.
According to Mickan et al (2010), “there is a clear requirement for collaboration among health workers from different professional backgrounds as no one person is able to deliver care to meet the complete needs of the patient.” Collaborative Practice is noted to “[occur] when multiple health workers provide comprehensive services by working together synergistically along with their patients, their families, carer and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings.”
Physiotherapists are key members of collaborative inter-professional teams due to their broad scope of practice. As is typical with varying locales, the specific role of a physiotherapist varies according to the needs of the specific population in question. At the First Physical Therapy Summit on Global Health in 2007, the overarching roles of the physiotherapist as an “Agent of Change” and “Health Advocate” were discussed Some of these roles include: