Rehabilitation services, like physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology, can make a huge difference in the daily lives of people living with HIV, and other chronic health conditions. realize-onlyRehabilitation services can help people maintain and improve their ability to do what they need and want to do every day. However, access to rehabilitation services that are funded by the provinces/territories across Canada varies depending on the province and city/town where a person lives, their age, and their health condition. A recent environmental scan that Realize (formerly the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation – CWGHR) conducted, found that these services are usually only for those under the age of 18, older than 65, or after surgery or a hospital stay. Publically-funded options are rarely available for people living with chronic health conditions, like HIV, who live in the community and are experiencing periods of pain, challenges with their ability to perform day-to-day tasks, or are wanting to work on maintaining their skills and strength. Across Canada there are a few community-based HIV organizations that have a rehabilitation professional on staff, but the majority of HIV organizations do not.

At Realize we have long recognized the need for greater access to rehabilitation for people living with HIV and other chronic health conditions. Over the years we have come up with some creative solutions, such as working with universities to place occupational therapy and physiotherapy students within community-based HIV organizations.  The students work with the HIV organization and the community members they serve to develop training programs, resources and workshops on topics that are relevant to their health and quality of life. Although this isn’t a long-term solution, it does introduce people living with HIV to the role rehabilitation providers can play in their care, and it also prepares future rehabilitation professionals to understand and address some of the needs of people living with HIV.  Still, more needs to be done.

In response, Realize is developing the Canadian Leaders for Equitable Access to Rehabilitation (CLEAR) network. The network will involve people with lived experience, people working in the HIV sector and other chronic health condition sectors, researchers, academics and policy experts among others. CLEAR will bring together individuals from across Canada to discuss the current state of access to rehabilitation, policy and program changes to improve access to rehabilitation for people with chronic health conditions, and creative ideas to temporarily improve access while working to change the current system. Most importantly, CLEAR will provide the opportunity for people who don’t normally interact to work together to develop a joint, cohesive voice to promote access to rehabilitation for all people living with chronic health conditions.

Written By: Puja Ahluwalia

Puja Ahluwalia, PT, MPH – Project Coordinator, Access to Rehabilitation

Realize is currently recruiting members to join the network. If you are interested in the issue of access to rehabilitation services, or know someone who is, please connect with me, Puja Ahluwalia at pahluwalia@realizecanada.org for more information. We are looking forward to talking about, taking action on, and promoting this important issue! For more information about Realize and resources like the environmental scan, you can visit our website www.realizecanada.org