Framing rehabilitation through health policy and systems research: priorities for strengthening rehabilitation

Alarcos Cieza, Aku Kwamie, Qhayiya Magaqa, Nino Paichadze, Carla Sabariego, Karl Blanchet, Nukhba Zia, Abdulgafoor M. Bachani, Abdul Ghaffar, Bente Mikkelsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Recent estimates report that 2.4 billion people with health conditions globally could benefit from rehabilitation. While the benefits of rehabilitation for individuals and society have been described in the literature, many individuals, especially in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to quality rehabilitation. As the need for rehabilitation continues to increase, it is crucial that health systems are adequately prepared to meet this need. Practice- and policy-relevant evidence plays an important role in health systems strengthening efforts. The aim of this paper is to report on the outcome of a global consultative process to advance the development of a research framework to stimulate health policy and systems research (HPSR) for rehabilitation, in order to generate evidence needed by key stakeholders. Methods: A multi-stakeholder participatory technical consultation was convened by WHO to develop a research framework. This meeting included participants from selected Member States, rehabilitation experts, HPSR experts, public health researchers, civil society and other stakeholders from around the world. The meeting focused on introducing systems approaches to stakeholders and deliberating on priority rehabilitation issues in health systems. Participants were allocated to one of four multi-stakeholder groups with a facilitator to guide the structured technical consultations. Qualitative data in the form of written responses to guiding questions were collected during the structured technical consultations. A technical working group was then established to analyse the data and extract its emerging themes. This informed the development of the HPSR framework for rehabilitation and a selection of preliminary research questions that exemplify how the framework might be used. Results: A total of 123 individuals participated in the multi-stakeholder technical consultations. The elaborated framework is informed by an ecological model and puts forth elements of the six WHO traditional building blocks of the health system, while emphasizing additional components pertinent to rehabilitation, such as political priority, engagement and participatory approaches, and considerations regarding demand and access. Importantly, the framework highlights the multilevel interactions needed across health systems in order to strengthen rehabilitation. Additionally, an initial set of research questions was proposed as a primer for how the framework might be used. Conclusions: Strengthening health systems to meet the increasing need for rehabilitation will require undertaking more HPSR to inform the integration of rehabilitation into health systems globally. We anticipate that the proposed framework and the emerging research questions will support countries in their quest to increase access to rehabilitation for their populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101
JournalHealth Research Policy and Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Health policy
  • Health systems strengthening
  • Rehabilitation
  • Systems thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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