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Ensuring Provision of Appropriate Physical Rehabilitation Services: From Emergency to Long-Term

Author(s): C. Tardiff*1, T. Verhoeff1
Affiliation(s): 1ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled, Geneva, Switzerland
Background: Emergency situations such as conflict and/or situations of violence have a direct effect on the number of persons who need access to physical rehabilitation, mainly because: the number of injuries increases; the health system collapse due to lack of personnel, infrastructure and funds; access to services may become more difficult. Even if the supply of physical rehabilitation services does not fall into the category of lifesaving work, restoring personal mobility to individuals with disabilities is critically important. A person with a physical impairment will need life long access to functioning rehabilitation services - devices will need to be repaired and/or replaced. Work carried out in the emergency or immediate post-conflict phase should be part of a long-term development plan and integrated into national service activities.

For more than 30 years, the ICRC supports the physical rehabilitation of the victims of conflict and violence through its Physical Rehabilitation Programme (PRP) and through the Special Fund for the Disabled (SFD). Both provide similar support, and it is primarily the political context and the needs that decide which channel the ICRC uses in a given situation. Since 1979, the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation activities have diversified and its activities have expanded throughout the world. Physical rehabilitation as part of humanitarian assistance has progressed well beyond emergency response. In countries where the ICRC has provided physical rehabilitation support, such services were previously often minimal or non-existent. Frequently, the support provided by the ICRC has served as a basis for the establishment of a national rehabilitation service dispensing care to those in need.ICRC physical rehabilitation assistance is designed to strengthen the overall physical rehabilitation services of a given country. It aims to improve the accessibility of services and their quality, and to develop national capacities to ensure their long-term viability. To increase the chances of services continuing after it withdraws, the ICRC has adopted a long term approach. For that reason, the ICRC supports national partners (governments, non-governmental organizations [NGO], etc.) in providing physical rehabilitation services, and reinforces their capacity to manage the services right from the start of the support period.


Even when the ICRC has completely withdrawn from a country, the organization’s Special Fund for the Disabled (SFD) can provide follow-up. The SFD’s involvement contributes to bridging the gap between the withdrawal from the ICRC – in conformity with its mandate – and the moment when the government or local institutions can take full responsibility for rehabilitation services. This long-term commitment to patients and facilities, unique among aid organizations, is much appreciated by the ICRC’s partners at both the level of the centres and at government level. Sustaining physical rehabilitation services on the long term are a challenge. Success will depend on the determination and long-term involvement not only of the local agency or organization providing the actual services, but also of supporting organizations and donors.

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