Role of Physiotherapists in Global Health

Original Editor - Laura Ritchie with tremendous gratitude to members of the Global Health Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association for assistance with content for this article.

Top Contributors - Naomi O'Reilly, Gayatri Jadav Upadhyay, Tony Lowe and Tarina van der Stockt  


According to WHO 2011 reports more than 1 billion people worldwide are estimated to live with a disability. Also the report says that the prevalence is greater in resource poor countries to high income countries. These have the potential to benefit from physiotherapy services.
Canadian physiotherapists may have a unique and expanding role to play in global health work (Alappat et al., 2007). There are many ways that physiotherapists can participate in global health work beyond direct patient care, extending into activities such as advocating for and developing rehabilitation programmes (Alappat et al., 2007). Also that physiotherapists are increasingly involved within the international trend to implement Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) as a strategy for sustainable and effective development of the health and social sectors.

But the question prevails on what skills, knowledge and qualities must physiotherapists possess in order to do ethical and effective global health work?

How Do Physiotherapists Fit Into Global Health?

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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.” [1] Collaborative Practice is noted to “[occur] when multiple health workers provide comprehensive services by working together synergistically along with their patients, their families, carers and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings.” [1]

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. [2] Some of these roles include:

Members of Inter-disciplinary Health Teams 

  • For the provision of direct service [2] [3] 

Educators and Mentors related to [2] [3]
  • Prevention and management of non-communicable diseases and lifestyle-related conditions (e.g. obesity, diabetes, heart disease). This was a notable priority for all geographic regions represented at the 2007 Summit. [2]
  • Prevention of incidents such as workplace injuries 
  • Increasing physical activity levels 
  • Infection control 
  • Maternal and child health


  • To establish and/or develop education and healthcare programs that maximize local resources to ensure sustainability [3]


  • Lifestyle Conditions
  • HIV/AIDs
  • Mental Health Conditions
  • For Physical and/or Sexual Abuse [2] 


  • Identify conditions that require referral to other health practitioners [2]


  • To Urban Planners
  • Government [2] 

Leaders and Active Participants

  • In Health Policy Decision-Making [2] 


Physiotherapists Role in Global Health Issues

Physiopedia Resources of PTs role are given below -


  1. 1.0 1.1 Mickan S, Hoffman SJ, Nasmith L; World Health Organizations Study Group on Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice. Collaborative practice in a global health context: Common themes from developed and developing countries. J of Interprofessional Care. 2010 24(5): 492-502.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 The First Physical Therapy Summit on Global Health: Implications and Recommendations for the 21st centuryfckLRPhysiotherapy Theory and Practice: An International Journal of Physiotherapy. 2011; 27(8).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Alappat C, Siu G, Penfold A, McGovern B, McFarland J, Raman S, Landry MD. Role of Canadian Physical Therapists in Global Health Initiatives: SWOT Analysis. fckLRPhysiotherapy Canada. 2007; 59(4): 272-285.
  4. Global Health Division. Developing sustainable programs in rural India: vlog with Andrea Mendoza. Available from: [last accessed 15/05/16]