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Emory University’s only World Health Organization Collaborating Centre leads initiative in the Bahamas
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Jennifer Johnson McEwen
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Dr. Sara Pullen

Dr. Sara Pullen (left) with officials from the Bahamas Public Health Authority and PAHO/WHO Office for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Emory University's Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, now designated a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre (US-478), is leading efforts to enhance the healthcare system in the Bahamas, advancing Emory's commitment to global health rehabilitation initiatives.  

This designation currently stands as Emory’s sole WHO Collaborating Centre and is an honor that places Emory among an elite group of just nine rehabilitation collaborating centers worldwide and the first one in North America. The Centre is affiliated with the WHO’s Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the specialized international health agency whose work is focused in the Americas and the Caribbean.

“In a world where aging populations and the prevalence of chronic diseases are on the rise, rehabilitation stands out as a critical health strategy for the 21st century, playing a distinctive role in maximizing the well-being of the population,” says Sara Pullen, DPT, MPH, professor of rehabilitation medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the WHO Collaborating Centre at Emory. “We are thrilled for Emory to be playing a pivotal role as a WHO Collaborating Centre in addressing health rehabilitation needs in the Bahamas and across the globe.”

In 2023, the Emory WHO Collaborating Centre conducted its first Systematic Assessment of Rehabilitation Situation (STARS) in the Bahamas. Pullen and team spent two weeks working with local government and community healthcare workers across two Bahamian islands. They gathered crucial information and insights into the strengths and potential areas for development within the national healthcare system’s rehabilitation sector.

Following the assessment, the Bahamas Ministry of Health and Wellness approved all of the Centre’s recommendations and the project is now in the strategic planning phase for the implementation of these changes into the national healthcare system. 

The WHO Collaborating Centre is the first at Emory and marks a significant milestone in the department's dedication to pioneering research and practices that enhance rehabilitative services on a global scale.

At the core of this collaboration lies the WHO’s Rehabilitation 2030 Initiative, a vital global initiative that brings attention to the profound unmet need for rehabilitation worldwide and highlights the importance of strengthening health systems to provide rehabilitation. The initiative marks a new strategic approach for the global rehabilitation community by emphasizing:

  • Rehabilitation should be available for all the population and through all stages of the life course.
  • Efforts to strengthen rehabilitation should be directed toward supporting the health system as a whole and integrating rehabilitation into all levels of health care.
  • Rehabilitation is an essential health service and crucial for achieving universal health coverage.

Pullen and the Emory WHO team is addressing the challenges outlined in the Global Burden of Disease report. Through cutting-edge research literature, collaboration with local governmental and community health partners and targeted education initiatives, the team aims to empower healthcare providers in the rehabilitation field worldwide with the knowledge and tools needed to meet the evolving demands of the 2030 crisis. 

Alongside Pullen, the PAHO Collaborating Centre team includes Gina Bell, DHSc, MPH and David Burke, MD. They hope to expand the Centre by incorporating more faculty focused on global health initiatives within the department. Together, they are striving to foster innovation, collaboration and positive change in the realm of global healthcare. 

For more information about the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University and its WHO Collaborating Centre work, please contact

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