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Why churches must be a key part of the global health response

Why churches must be a key part of the global health response

Ashley Lopez Olijnyk and Jack Palmer-White

29 May 2018 10:22AM


The Anglican Communion’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Jack Palmer-White, and the Programme Assistant in the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations in New York, Ashley Lopez Olijnyk, consider the role of Churches in global health provision.

The role that churches play globally in providing healthcare is well known. Even the quickest scan of the Anglican Communion News Service website over recent weeks shows just how involved the church is – whether it is through the Anglican-run hospital in Gaza City, the church’s role in containing the latest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or one of the countless church-run health clinics around the world providing life-saving and life-giving medical care to local communities.

This week feels like a particularly good moment to reflect on how churches around the world meet the health needs of so many people. As the World Health Assembly meets in Geneva, 70 years after the World Health Organization (WHO) was founded, an ambitious new agenda for global health is being set out:

to ensure that by 2023, one billion more people benefit from universal health coverage; one billion more people are better protected from health emergencies; and one billion more people enjoy better health and wellbeing. WHO estimates that achieving this “triple billion” target could save 29 million lives.

If the countries of the world are going to achieve the third Sustainable Development Goal – to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – then churches need to be part of the response. Closer working between states, UN agencies, private sector partners and civil society is essential. The WHO and national governments need to recognise that churches are key partners in this work.

It was encouraging to hear the Director General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, say at an event during the Assembly that “nobody can question the benefits of partnership between WHO and CSOs. WHO has a broad mandate but it cannot cover everything by itself. We must believe in the power of partnerships”

You can have your say on how WHO and churches work together in partnership by completing this WHO survey.

The church’s unique role and experience in healthcare is needed right around the UN system and beyond. At a recent conference on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace in New York, participants recognised that the importance of reliable access to healthcare services is often overlooked in the peace-building processes. In times of war, health outcomes are altered significantly, and solutions for this problem are often delayed. Many organisations (often faith-based themselves) mobilise very effectively to provide immediate relief, but long-term solutions for rebuilding health systems are often not on the agenda.

Healthcare is a primary building block for any nation, and without guaranteed health services, the risk of a return to conflict is much more likely, no matter how much effort is being put toward reaching a political resolution. Conflict can cause the healthcare system to collapse, and it is important to build a lasting infrastructure that will be self-sufficient once peacekeeping operations withdraw from the country.

In conflict situations, the church is often the only functioning institution. Working with UN agencies – whether WHO, UNDP, UNAIDS or peacekeeping missions – the church’s role as a durable, sustainable and locally committed partner is something that the UN should not underestimate.

  • Are you working with the World Health Organisation in the country or region? Get in touch with the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations to tell us more about the partnership.

  • The Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations is partnering with the World Council of Churches to encourage religious leaders and faith communities to speak out for action against Tuberculosis (TB). With TB on the agenda for the UN General Assembly in the autumn, we are encouraging Anglicans to ask their governments to urgently take action to End TB. You can find out how to get involved in the campaign here.

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