The birth of a new nonprofit, the Global Women’s Health Initiative (GWHI), is underway to use physical therapy skills to empower women globally by improving their health, especially in developing countries where resources are often inadequate.
The Section on Women’s Health (SOWH) of the American Physical Therapy Association is the organization’s first partner. With a global membership of 2,650 physical therapists treating patients across their life span, the partnership aligns well with SOWH’s mission to advance excellence in the physical therapist profession in women’s and men’s health worldwide through innovative education, research, and advocacy.
Physical therapists have long worked with maternal and female pelvic health organizations to meet the rehabilitation needs of women with conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse and gynecologic fistula. However, women’s health advocates remained concerned about the lack of adequate resources and developed GWHI to accelerate progress on improving women’s health and addressing pelvic floor dysfunction in developing countries, in particular. Especially urgent has been the need to gather all current information on such global endeavors.
“I’m energized by the chance to see my actions make a real difference in an efficient and relevant way,” says SOWH President Patricia Wolfe, PT, MS. “Please join me in supporting this worthy initiative by donating through the Section on Women’s Health website today at www.womenshealthapta.org/gwhi.
The partnership with SOWH includes a fundraising and awareness “call to action” among SOWH members and the wider APTA community. Unlike physicians, physical therapists generally do not have corporate donors such as manufacturers of surgical products that traditionally fund philanthropic healthcare ventures, so GWHI is appealing to physical therapists worldwide to help fund projects.
Desired long-term outcomes of the pioneering partnership include increased project funding, a major boost in volunteer hours by therapists in affected areas internationally, and creation of high-quality promotion and media outreach efforts.
“If social justice and human rights issues matter to you, please know that you can transform women’s lives around the world by contributing to the Global Women’s Health Initiative and becoming involved in our services,” says GWHI Rebecca Stephenson, one of the founders, is a board-certified women’s health physical therapy specialist. “As women’s health physical therapists, we are passionate about the well-being of all women, and we can come together now to create systemic change in the health and lives of women in need.”
She noted that “physician organizations are doing surgical work on these issues, but there is not enough physical therapy input into the rehabilitation team. As women’s health medical practitioners, we are missing from the solutions equation.
“However, we can make an impact through fundraising, education, and volunteering, and work harmoniously with other medical communities to offer the bridge and leadership to help women return to full physical health from these medical challenges,” Stephenson says. “We’ve done a good job earning both respect and an accepted value within medical communities regarding the recovery and wellness of patients. Now is our time to step up as leaders to connect the dots around the world and–through our combined talents and knowledge–change lives.”
The problems GWHI will address are large and increasing:
- Ethiopia is home to 9,000 cases of obstetric fistula a year, and 59% of women receive no antenatal care. Only 13% receive postnatal care within the first two days of delivery. In Nigeria, 400,000 to 800,000 women live with fistulas, the highest national prevalence of obstetric fistula.
- The United Nations estimates that 86 million more girls will reach childbearing age in the world by 2030.
- In Nepal, 1 million women have pelvic organ prolapse, because they are expected to carry 100 to 200 pounds of food on their back. Of these, 600,000 to 700,000 have stage-three prolapse. Surgery needed to treat the latter condition costs $300 (US), and recovery takes one to 14 days. Even then, a physical therapist is needed to help transform patients and educate them on the function of the pelvic floor, so they fully benefit from a rehabilitation approach rather than just a surgical one.
Tax-deductible contributions to GWHI may be given securely at www.womenshealthapta.org/gwhi.