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A new series published in a U.K. medical journal demonstrates the growing role of religion in global health.

The three-part series from The Lancet focuses on faith-based healthcare and how religious organizations can play a crucial role in helping health coverage become universal. The series suggests a lack of evidence about the abundance of health services faith-based organizations provide and represent. However, the series also validates the important role faith-based health providers play in immunization, prevention of mother and child deaths, HIV services and antimalarial campaigns.

The role of religion in global health is even more crucial in areas with fragile health systems.

Faith-based organizations have a unique opportunity because of their experience, strengths and capacities. According to The Lancet, the chance to play a vital role in global heath arises from their wide geographical coverage, infrastructure and influence. For a faith-based organization to have an impact on global health, it needs the support and trust of its community. This is where religious leaders play a role.

Religious leaders tend to have lots of authority at the grass roots within a community, as well as the ability to shape people’s opinions. Leaders of faith-based organizations, along with having substantial social and political sway, also have a network of people they inspire, in turn mobilizing congregations to make a difference. For example, Channels of Hope, a project of the Evangelical Christian aid organization World Vision International, mobilized almost 400,000 local leaders to transform health and development in their communities.

Religious leaders are also a reliable source when it comes to information about medical programs. Some vocal minorities may use religious arguments and possible distrust of government to advocate against immunizing children, but by enlisting the help of leaders in the religious sector, medical programs can extend their reach.

Such an occasion was seen in both Angola in the late 1990s, and India in the late 2000s. In both instances, religious leaders helped to educate those who distrusted government officials.

Muslim leaders in India helped to reverse opposition to polio vaccines in certain areas where rumors and misconceptions about the government were rampant. In Angola, churches helped to end polio by making sure messages reached isolated populations — the same areas that often saw high illiteracy rates and poor media coverage.

Partnerships also play a key role in global health, as shown by case studies examined in The Lancet series.

When religious leaders partner with groups including government organizations, public-sector agencies and international development actors, effectiveness is often boosted.

Such an instance occurred in Sierra Leone in the 1980s when Muslim and Christian leaders united with UNICEF and led a campaign to increase immunization rates in children under the age of 1. By combining forces, rates increased from six percent to 75 percent.

By joining forces, not only can it be made possible that every child is vaccinated, but a successful partnership can also help generate long-term support for necessary health services for children.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Medical Xpress, UNICEF
Photo: Cross Catholic

Eradicate Poverty
As part of the Moral Imperative, religious leaders from around the world joined the World Bank Group and other organizations in a call to end global poverty by 2030.

On April 9, 30 leaders and chiefs from religious and faith-based organizations came together to introduce their commitments in ending extreme poverty around the world. Religious institutions and faith-based organizations partnered in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and ultimately, help end global poverty.

Many religious leaders believe that there is a moral obligation to help lift the poor out of poverty, but more than that, they believe religious organizations should band together as part of a movement to change and influence the world. The Moral Imperative believes that joining the World Bank Group and others that posses mutual goals to end poverty is both imperative and inspiring. It brings organizations together in pursuit of a better world.

“The Moral Imperative statement seeks to generate the necessary social and political will by inspiring greater commitments from others to join in this cause, tapping into many of the shared convictions and beliefs that unify the world’s major religions around the call and responsibility to combat poverty,” says the World Bank Group in a recent press release.

The announcement was inspired by a previous meeting held between the World Bank Group’s president and religious leaders. The Faith Based and Religious Leaders Roundtable cultivated a setting where talks of endorsement regarding goals to end global poverty was made, resulting in the joint Moral Imperative statement.

As part of the Moral Imperative statement, the endorsers are dedicated to driving change on a global scale through actions made by the faith community. The World Bank Group along with the faith-based community believe that ending extreme poverty in a matter of 15 years is possible. The new 2015 Sustainable Development Goals are expected to build upon previous success and the shared belief that ending global poverty is an essential and urgent burden that must be achieved.

The actions of religious and faith-based leaders came at a crucial time where ending global poverty has become increasingly urgent. The partnership can further help hundreds of millions of impoverished people out of extreme poverty.

In the past 25 years alone, extreme poverty has been reduced by half and continues to decrease as a result of the support provided. At one time, two billion people were living in poverty, but today there are fewer than one billion people living in extreme conditions. Especially in recent years, there has been major progress in lowering global poverty rates. The idea of ending global poverty is no longer distant and impossible, but as progress becomes more evident, so does the possibility.

“Now, for the first time in human history there exists both the capacity and moral responsibility to ensure that no one has to live in extreme poverty’s grip,” says the World Bank Group in a recent press release.

Through commitments made, the possibility of ending extreme poverty has quickly become feasible. Advocates who continue to build this imperative in partnership with the World Group Bank can influence the movement and take it further, and at a much faster pace.

– Nada Sewidan

Sources: The Salvation Army, The World Bank

Photo: Flickr

PEPFAR
The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, started by President George W. Bush in 2003, has tried to tackle the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. The program has been tremendously successful, providing treatment for two million people and care for 10 million, including four million orphans and vulnerable children. Below are three major lessons the world of development and poverty alleviation can learn from the successes of PEPFAR.

1. Country Ownership

One of the unique components of PEPFAR is the role host countries play in the design and implementation of interventions. Ninety percent of the partner organizations that work with PEPFAR in the field are local. There is not a blanket approach, meaning that governments have to take ownership for the programs that are executed in their countries. Each country has a different approach that fits the needs of the HIV/AIDS epidemic within its borders, making the interventions more successful.

2. Focus on Results and Accountability

Even with criticism that development goals cannot be boiled down to pure numbers, PEPFAR’s intense focus on results has proved to be successful, especially when trying to build monitoring and evaluation capabilities country-to-country. A focus on results helped keep countries accountable to the goals of PEPFAR. With better monitoring and evaluation capabilities, governments can be kept more accountable and transparent when working on development projects.

3. Engagement of All Sectors

PEPFAR was one of the first projects to try to engage all sectors of the economy, not just national governments. The project included civil society, non-governmental organizations, faith-based and community-based organizations and the private sector in the implementation of specific interventions. This inclusion helps to address underlying and periphery issues that prevent or hinder interventions, like government stability, personal freedoms and development standards.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: PEPFAR, Avert, Smith
Photo: Huffington Post