WCPT Africa Region Conference System, 9th WCPT Africa Region Congress

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Advancing physiotherapy impact in Africa through integration of health promotion and injury prevention strategies into the workplace.
Faith A Grant

Last modified: 2012-02-07



To promote partnership between African physiotherapists and experienced therapists to decrease the burden of work related injury thereby increasing physiotherapists’ relevance.



Common to most developing countries is the use of human labor for tasks which have been mechanized in developed nations. With technological advancement African workplaces also experience similar risks to developed nations; those associated with repetitive work and a sedentary, office-work environment. Studies identify back and shoulder injuries related to lifting and neck and upper extremity pain associated with sedentary occupations.

Recent studies in Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Nigeria identify potentially limiting perceptions of physiotherapists on the part of physicians, final year medical students, nurses, members of the public and physiotherapy students. Novice South African therapists feel limited in their ability to impact healthcare. In most developed nations, physiotherapists are seen as first contact health practitioners, yet many African physicians still “prescribe” physiotherapy for their patients.

 Over thirty years ago, the South African Medical Journal highlighted the lack of recognition of African physiotherapists’ contribution to healthcare. It emphasized the importance of a preventative focus for the future of the profession. From that paper two questions arise. Has physiotherapy education equipped novice therapists with the confidence not only to treat, but also to prevent injuries such as those associated with work? How has the perception of physiotherapy changed in the eyes of other health professionals and the public?



The project evolved from a review of information, from the African context, on workplace injury- management, perception of physiotherapy and perception of physiotherapy education.

Modification of tasks, work environment or duration of work shifts contribute to the prevention of workplace injuries. Exercise and education are important preventative strategies that are specific to physiotherapy practice. African physiotherapists currently address workplace injuries through the development of Back School and lifting education programs. They can contribute to the reduction of workplace injury by integrating targeted exercise programs into workplaces. In light of the limited number of physiotherapists across the continent, partnership between African and non-African therapists with knowledge and experience in implementing on-site programs is key. An added benefit is an improvement in perceived relevance of physiotherapy.



No similar partnership is known to exist but evidence abounds in support of workplace injury prevention programs and their impact on financial and human burden.



Physiotherapy potentially impacts the economic and human cost of work injuries in Africa. Manpower and experience are limiting factors. This conference provides an opportunity for partnership connections to address this deficit. Future education of health practitioners, including physiotherapists, should address the various roles of physiotherapists; clinician, manager, team member and social advocate.



By facilitating linkages between physiotherapists and providing funding and policy support for educational programs, the World Confederation of Physical Therapy can advance this goal. Similarly, by contributing knowledge and skills to a problem which is shared by developing and developed nations alike, African physiotherapists will be seen as an essential component in the containment of workplace injury.

Keywords:  Workplace-injury, exercise, perception.

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