[World Council of Churches] Global health and religious leaders meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva have noted the essential role Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) play in providing health services. They met in a consultation at the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva on Thursday 21 May entitled: “The future of faith-based health care provision”. Participants related some of their experiences in responding to the global Ebola crisis.
Dr Luiz Loures, deputy executive director of UNAIDS, said the Ebola crisis was “more than a wake-up call”, and a meeting such as the one at the WCC helps professionals see where “this transition takes us” in medical services provision.
“Faith-based workers were the first ones to die of Ebola, but before that they were also the first ones to care about it,” said Loures.
He urged FBOs not to be too modest about their work. “Look to the evidence. The evidence speaks for itself,” he said.
He encouraged the FBOs: “You can build your communication. When you build your communication you have evidence” that can help in building knowledge of the work of religious institutions in the field of medical care provision.
The consultation at the WCC was convened as the World Health Assembly was taking was being held in Geneva from 18–26 May.
“For us as Christians, faith in God as creator, God as our reconciler, God as our healer, and also the God who calls us to serve” is central, said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, in his opening remarks.
He noted, “Some people need more care and more resources than others, and that is part of our commitment.”
Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health David Parirenyatwa attended. His country currently holds a significant position as chair of the African Union.
Dr Samuel Mwenda, general secretary of the Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK), co-chaired the meeting. He said FBOs in his country’s health sector were very important, but they are not achieving their full potential.
“FBOs have lost many lower level health facilities which have closed down due to lack of funding,” he said, raising the question, why?
He cited a loss of donor subsidies, no government funding, the poor communities served who have no or limited means of paying for medical services and the increased cost of health service delivery inputs, among other reasons.
“This represents lost opportunity for communities previously served by these health facilities,” he said.
Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo, who heads works for Caritas Internationalis as both head of delegation to the United Nations in Geneva and special advisor on HIV/AIDS and health, shared a view similar to that of Mwenda.
He noted that FBOs are often in the communities before a crisis such as Ebola. “We need access to funding and resources in accord with the burden of care we shoulder. We are there; we are partners; we are not competing with the government,” Vitillo said in a plea to the international community.
“We are complementing what governments cannot do. We should not be seen as a threat. We should not be seen as duplicative.”
Vitillo noted that many of the FBO services are “alone in those countries in conflict where those governments don’t have control over some of the areas where we are and we are delivering services.”
Also attending, along with international health experts, was a group of students from the department of nursing and public health at Kent State University in the United States.
Every year more than 20 students attend the WHA in Geneva and also visit the WCC through its health and healing programme as part of their studies.
The students heard how FBOs play a key role in global health, especially in developing nations.
Those working in health, health leaders and faith leaders who met at the WCC shared experiences, bringing data about coverage, quality of care and responses to epidemics, emergencies and conflicts.