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Iran: physical rehabilitation specialists discover just how much they have in common

14-01-2010 Interview

Experts in physical rehabilitation from Africa and the Middle East met in Tehran recently for a seminar. They discovered that many problems are universal. Fortunately, they also discovered that National Societies and the ICRC are willing to provide support, as these interviews with some of the participants demonstrated.

  Claude Tardif    

   Claude Tardif – head of orthotic/prosthetic programmes, ICRC headquarters  

 How did this seminar come about? Why Iran?  

The Iranian Red Crescent Society and the ICRC started talking about working together in the physical rehabilitation sector some time ago. In 2008, our discussions culminated in a bilateral agreement, and one of the activities in the agreement was an international seminar in Tehran. We chose Tehran because the Iranian Red Crescent has a huge physical rehabilitation operation – in fact, they are the main supplier of this type of service in Iran.

 What were the aims of the seminar?  

The primary aim was to identify challenges common to the various countries participating in the seminar, focusing on physical rehabilitation. The seminar also gave participants a chance to network and to learn from one another. Quite apart from which, the ICRC makes no claim to know everything, and this was an opportunity for us to learn more about the problems on the ground.

 Would you say the seminar was a success?  

The seminar was highly successful, in terms both of the outcome and of the level of discussions. Everyone participated and by the end of the seminar we had a list of recommendations to which everyone agreed.

 What will happen now, especially with the Iranian Red Crescent?  

We plan to hold another seminar in Tehran next year, with the IRCS providing the training. In addition, the IRCS would like to run a training seminar on orthopaedic shoes with the African Federation of Orthopaedic Technicians. The IRCS and the ICRC have only just started working together, and there is a lot of potential, not only for them to support us but also for us to support them by sharing our expertise in this field.

  Seyed Masoud Marashian    

   Seyed Masoud Marashian, head of the Iranian Red Crescent General Rehabilitation Centre  

 Why is this seminar important for the IRCS?  

Supporting rehabilitation inside and outside the country is one of the IRCS'main mandates. We have established around 20 rehabilitation centres across the country, and the General Rehabilitation Centre is one of the main centres in the region. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICRC, with the aim of expanding our rehabilitation activities, and we intend to support other countries in cooperation with the ICRC. The first project under the memorandum was a highly valuable joint IRCS/ICRC seminar in 2008 on the production of polypropylene prostheses. This seminar was the second project

 What concrete steps might be taken following the seminar?  

One of the main objectives of this seminar was to establish cooperation with international organizations such as the ICRC and with NGOs from developing countries. A nother objective was to support countries where the ICRC is working and the IRCS can deliver its rehabilitation services. The IRCS is intending to carry out training in these countries in cooperation with the ICRC, and the seminar was an opportunity to prepare the ground.

  Akhavan Moghaddam    


 Dr Akhavan Moghaddam, IRCS Under-Secretary-General for Health, Treatment and Rehabilitation  

 What can you tell us about the background to physical rehabilitation in Iran?  

The IRCS was one of the first Iranian organizations to provide rehabilitation services, starting around 45 years ago. Events such as the Iran/Iraq war and the Bam earthquake increased both the number of disabled people in Iran and the need for physical rehabilitation services.

One new item on our agenda is providing rehabilitation services to people in neighbouring countries. Rehabilitation personnel from some of these countries attend courses in Iran, or Iranian instructors go to their countries. We have established a productive relationship with international organizations, especially the ICRC and the Federation. I hope we will witness further expansion of such cooperation in the future.

 How did Iran's experience during the 1980-1988 war influence the IRCS' role in physical rehabilitation?  

The war left many people disabled – both combatants and civilians. At that time, there was no organization to support them, except for the IRCS and a few smaller organizations, so the IRCS Rehabilitation Department was directly engaged in providing services to people with this type of disability. Providing rehabilitation services during the war was difficult, partly because economic sanctions made it difficult to obtain even basic materials for our products, such as resins. Those restrictions forced us to rely on ourselves and become independent.

 As Movement partners and experts in this field, how do you see the future in terms of the needs that the participants identified during the seminar?  

The participants have a lot in common, especially the humanitarian services they provide, their shared expertise and the large geographical area they cover. That means there are plenty of opportunities for the Movement to support war victims and coordinate the delivery of aid to them. Those opportunities include supporting neighbouring countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or more distant countries such as Sierra Leone.

Training is another field of interest. Many countries in Africa and Asia are new to rehabilitation and have limited experience. Future joint projects involving the Iranian Red Crescent and the ICRC could include providing direct services, like orthoses, prostheses and rehabilitation services, or training the public. For instance, we very much wanted to help the victims of the Gaza conflict, especially the children, but there were limitations on our direct presence there. An increase in the number of humanitarian partners is most certainly not a threat, because each partner has its own experience to share. Pooling the capabilities of the various organizations will strengthen the global rehabilitation effort.

  Masse Niang    

   Masse Niang – President of the African Federation of Orthopaedic Technicians (FATO)  

 Why is it important for you to participate in this seminar?  

The ICRC has understood that orthotics and prosthetics could only develop in Africa by setting up a network. This permanent network of contacts not only allows for the exchange of professional information, but also means an improvement in the quality of services. I was asked to talk about the difficulties of setting up an effective rehabilitation programme in Africa, a continent with many problems and many handicapped people who are poor, and whose governments put little effort into dealing with the problem of being handicapped.

 What will you take away from this seminar?  

When I came here, I was very happy to see a different picture in the sense that the political will exists and there is infrastructure. And I was delighted to see an advanced national society like the IRCS, which is willing to do things for vulnerable people. I leave enriched, having met new people and organizations, and having discovered new ways of seeing things. Bringing people together from different walks of life is a source of richness. I have always heard things said about Iran but never in reference to the field of rehabilitation or helping disabled people, or in the field of disaster management.

  Dan Blocka    


 Dan Blocka – President of the International Society for Prosthetics & Orthotics (ISPO)  

 What does ISPO do?  

ISPO is a multi-disciplinary society made up of members of different professions, all interested in the rehabilitation field. Our activities include education and the dissemination of information concerning services, and we work with the World Health Organisation to set international standards. In addition, the Society accredits international schools in prosthetics and orthotics and holds a world congress every three years.


  Abebe Gebremedhin Weldeyohannes    

   Abebe Gebremedhin Weldeyohannes – Policy & Programming Officer, Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs, Ethiopia  

 What does the Ethiopian government do in the field of physical rehabilitation?  

The 1995 constitution and the social development welfare policy for the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs both address the issue of disability, and we have a national plan of action for people with disabilities. At an international level, Ethiopia has signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is impossible to deal with disability by only considering one sector, so we have included disability issues in other policies too. Finally, the government has invested heavily in prosthetic and orthotic centres, equipping them with imported materials and training staff.

 What will you be taking away from this seminar?  

Disability has both humanitarian and development aspects. If we address both of these, disabled people will be able to sustain their own lives and contribute to the economic growth of their countries. I learnt about the care available to people with disabilities in Iran. The commitment of the IRCS is quite remarkable. We have the policies and programmes in Ethiopia, but we have to move forward, creating connections with partners who can he lp us.

  Ali Al-Sakkaf    

   Ali Al-Sakkaf – Technical Director, Yemen Centre.  

 You have personal experience of disability. Can you tell us a little bit about this?  

My father lost both legs to a mine when he was in the army, back in 1982. A year later, he became director of the Yemen Centre. Initially, he was devastated by the loss of his legs, but artificial limbs gave him new hope. Today, he can walk and drive unaided.

What is the connection between this experience and your work in the field of physical rehabilitation?

After my father joined this physical rehabilitation centre, he became very interested in the subject and we saw how happy it made him. That's when I became interested. I wanted to make people happy. Just like they made my father happy when he began to walk again on his artificial legs.