Global Partnerships in Medical Rehabilitation

The Need for Rehabilitation Medicine Worldwide

Most organizations offering relief to under-developed nations provide acute services, such as vaccinations, antibiotics and wound care. While these efforts increase the recipient’s well-being, other aspects of patient care go unanswered, such as improving the patient’s functional abilities and independence.

In other countries patients suffer from many of the same diseases, traumatic events or birth defects that we have in the United States; however, because of geographic location and economic situation, these individuals do not have access to rehabilitation medicine. Although more widespread in the United States since its beginnings in the 1940s, rehabilitation medicine (also called physiatry) does not exist in many countries.

Making a Difference

By educating doctors and allied health professionals from other countries about rehabilitation techniques and outcomes, we hope to improve the lives of patients with physical disabilities and reduce the burden on caregivers and society.

In 2013, Dr. Joshua Alexander and Dr. Nicole Forsythe helped children with disabilities in Haiti. Read more in our news article, which includes links to Dr. Alexander's blog, a recent article on UNC Global's website, and a link to help support Dr. Alexander's future trips to Haiti.

Additionally, in former years, rehabilitation doctors visited Brazil and Peru, as featured in an archived article at UNC Global. See also our story about Peru below.

Drs. Lee and Fava In March 2009, Michael Y. Lee, MD, MHA, department chair, along with two residents (physiatrists-in-training), visited Peruvian physicians, therapy technicians and others who treat a similar patient population; they discerned how to make the most significant impact within that country.

Pictured: Michael Y. Lee, MD, MHA, department chair, with Dr. Lourdes Armas Fava, dean of the Medical School, Universidad Nacional de Trujillo.

UNC Rehabilitation Doctors Bring Their Specialty to Peru

“We tried to keep our minds as open as possible,” says Madhu Mehta, MD.

While serving as chief resident for the UNC Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Mehta and her colleague, Christie Campbell, DO, traveled to Trujillo, Peru in March 2009 with Michael Y. Lee, MD, MHA, department chair, along with the financial assistance of generous donors, to bring information about rehabilitation medicine to a country without this specialty.

Dr. Luis Diaz, chair of the UNC Department of Dermatology, helped arrange the trip, given his previous collaboration and association with the Medical School of Universidad Nacional de Trujillo.

“Thanks to Dr. Diaz, we arrived already earning respect and trust of the people, and we were treated as honored guests,” Mehta says.

“We met with rheumatologists, neurologists and neurosurgeons who shared a similar type of patient population; we also met technicians who were similar to physical therapists and occupational therapists,” Campbell says. “In other words, they had many of the tools in place, but needed a coordinated program for interdisciplinary rehabilitation care.”

“In Peru, patients are shown a couple of therapies by the technicians, and then they are sent home with best wishes,” Mehta adds. “Given this practice and the fact that there are no disability laws in Peru, patients with disabilities have fewer options.”                                                                                                                                                      

In response to the need for rehabilitation care following acute services, the doctors presented lectures about general rehabilitation services at UNC, as well as rehabilitation for spinal cord injury (SCI), and for lower back pain.

“We learned that there are simple techniques we can teach to make a big impact,” Mehta notes. “For example, we can demonstrate spasticity management and provide resources.”

After visiting various hospital settings, as well as several archeological sites (such as the site pictured below), the American doctors left with a deeper appreciation for the history and the resilience of people of Peru.
Archaeological site in Peru
“We also understand more fully that not every patient has the means to afford therapy, equipment and other medical services following initial disability, even in North Carolina,” Campbell adds. “We renewed our commitment to help all of our patients find as many options as possible.”

Become A Partner

If you would like to partner with us to bring rehabilitation medicine to other countries, please contact Annie Hager-Blunk at the UNC Medical Foundation: annieh@unch.edu or 919.966.3930.