As 'centre of life' for many African communities, faith-based organisations are well-placed to teach benefits of life-saving health interventions like vaccines and bed nets

Child Survival Call to Action - Faith Based Organisations

Copyright: GAVI/2012/John Donnelly

Washington, D.C., 14 June 2012 – As key players in the world of global health, leaders of faith-based organisations have highlighted their potential role in helping governments, companies, and partnerships like GAVI end preventable child deaths in the world's poorest countries.

In a panel discussion at the Child Survival Call to Action conference, Bishop Dr. Sunday N. Onuoha, executive director of the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association, said that people of faith look toward their faith leaders for guidance on how best to protect their families' from illness.

That meant, he said, that pastors, imams, and rabbis could be preaching about receiving immunisations or using bed nets to protect against malaria.

“We have leaders preaching in mosques and in churches about mosquitoes,” he said. “Imams are putting together Quranic verses that are about health and life, and we have preachers putting together Biblical verses about health. Some had to do with malaria.”

Not a Christian issue, not a Jewish issue, not a Muslim issue. It is our issue.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty, on child survival

The Bishop attributed a drop in the incidence of malaria in three Nigerian states to preachers and imams speaking about the disease.

Centre of life

Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church added that faith-based groups in Africa are the “centre of life” in many communities.

“There’s a pretty high comfort level of people going to the faith community so let’s take advantage of that,” said Warren, a leader in working with orphans and vulnerable children.

An example of collaboration between GAVI and faith-based groups is the work of LDS Charities on vaccine roll-outs in Ghana and Kenya. LDS Charities, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently made immunisation its seventh major humanitarian initiative, contributing US$ 1.5 million through the GAVI Matching Fund to purchase vaccines and support immunisation programmes in GAVI-supported countries. LDS Charities becomes the seventh GAVI Matching Fund partner, with its contribution matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This Church’s designation of immunisation as a major initiative has brought significant resources, visibility and tens of thousands of volunteers to GAVI programmes, including the Church’s work in Kenya for World Pneumonia Day last November and the historic vaccine drive in Ghana, where the Church arranged for 1.5 million SMS messages to be sent notifying Ghanaians about the programme.

Place where we come together

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty, emphasised that the call for child survival was “not a Christian issue, not a Jewish issue, not a Muslim issue. It is our issue.”

He said when his family settled into the United States, after losing five family members in the Holocaust, “it was the nuns of St. Mary’s Church in Lynn, Massachusetts, who helped us. … We have a responsibility to help. … A faith community needs to be a place where we come together.”

Some 750 people from 80 countries, including representatives from 50 ministries of health, have gathered in Washington to attend the two-day Child Survival Call to Action meeting which aims to mobilise the world to end preventable child deaths.

Sharing best practice

In an example of how faith-based organisations in developed countries can bring best practice to their counterparts in poorer nations, Warren cited recent studies by Saddleback. These showed that opening orphanages in Africa was not always the appropropriate response.

“If (orphanages) are not good enough for our children, it’s not good enough for other children as well,” she said.

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