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Press Release

Long term solutions needed to resolve rehabilitation crisis in Haiti: Canadian physiotherapists playing key role in crisis and forward-planning

Canada NewsWire

TORONTO, May 10 /CNW/ - The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) is deeply concerned about the rehabilitation crisis in Haiti and has taken a significant step towards supporting efforts to improve the long term outlook for improved rehabilitation services in the devastated country. CPA sponsored travel for two Haitian physiotherapists to attend a recent meeting of the North America Caribbean Region of the World Confederation for Physiotherapy. It was the first opportunity for the physiotherapists to make strong professional connections that can help to expand the capacity and profile of the physiotherapy profession in their home country and global region.

January's devastating earthquake in Haiti has left thousands of people permanently disabled. Although it is estimated that more than 200,000 Haitians were killed in the falling buildings, many more emerged from the rubble as victims of trauma. The primary injuries included fractures, spinal cord injuries and major burns as building materials compressed cooking gas canisters. In the absence of a functioning health infrastructure and adequate resources, badly mangled limbs and serious infections have led to an alarming number of amputations. The exact number of amputees is difficult to pinpoint but aid agencies say Haiti ranks among the largest-ever loss of limbs in a single natural disaster.

A number of Canadian physiotherapists are in Haiti playing a crucial role in the rehabilitation of earthquake victims. These physiotherapists, who include members of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association's International Health Division (IHD), are meeting a number of urgent needs including helping the thousands of amputees adjust to artificial limbs and the other physical challenges associated with being newly disabled. The physiotherapists face enormous challenges including severe human resources shortages, weak health care infrastructure, difficulty in getting the proper rehabilitation equipment, and poor living conditions. Despite these obstacles the physiotherapists are doing their utmost to address short term rehabilitation needs by applying their knowledge and skills to improve the overall function and independence of the earthquake victims.

"The immediate needs of the earthquake victims are urgent, but we also have to proactively plan for the future rehabilitation needs of Haiti," says Shaun Cleaver, PT, MSc, a physiotherapist and member of the IHD who worked in Haiti for 3 years prior to the earthquake and then returned as part of the relief effort. "Most of the acute care hospitals do not even offer rehabilitation," adds Cleaver, who sits on a committee working to establish national rehabilitation guidelines for Haiti.

Other physiotherapists who have been working in the post-earthquake rehabilitation efforts in Haiti share Cleaver's concerns. "The number of people who now have a disability as a direct result of the earthquake is staggering," says Michel Landry, PT, PhD, a faculty member in the University of Toronto's Physical Therapy Department who has worked in several other disaster and war zones including Bosnia and Guatemala. "We need to establish rehabilitation in Haiti as an integral part of the developing health care system. There must be more permanent rehab facilities and services if we want long term health outcomes in Haiti to improve," adds Dr. Landry. "To do nothing means turning our backs on our responsibility as global citizens."

Julie Hard, an Ontario physiotherapist and current Chair of the IHD is spending 6 months in Haiti. Hard is working within several community clinics to provide training and assistance to local workers with an interest in health who have been recruited to provide rehabilitation services. "It isn't enough to provide short term support without thinking about the sustainability of the work we are doing," says Hard. "Canadians are well positioned to improve people's lives by supporting training initiatives that allow Haitians to address the long-term rehabilitation needs of people with new and pre-existing disabilities. Canadians showed tremendous solidarity with Haiti during the early days of the earthquake. Now is an opportunity to reinforce our commitment to sustainable measures to improve quality of life in Haiti," stresses Hard.

Physiotherapists will continue to play a critical role as Haiti rebuilds. They will be focusing on collaborating with local partners in health care delivery throughout the country, with the ultimate goal of making far-reaching changes to help improve the mobility and independence of today's earthquake victims while also leaving an enhanced rehabilitation service structure that will serve future generations.