In the first place health and religion are connected in a practical way. Churches and other faith communities have established and maintained many hospitals and other health services all over the world. Ample attention has been paid to both physical and mental health of patients by religious institutes.
In the COVID-19 crisis faith communities play a crucial role in diminishing the spread of the virus, and diminishing the impact of COVID-19 regulations on vulnerable people, by giving health information and other instructions, by providing soap, food, etc.
There is also a connection between faith and health that is less practical, more spiritual. This can be problematic, for instance when illness is perceived as a divine punishment for immoral behaviour. This may lead to stigmatisation of the other, or feelings of guilt. It can also be positive, for instance if ill people find comfort and hope in their faith in God.
In the hot debate on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) the arguments that are used to limit women's rights or the rights of sexual minorities are often religious and cultural arguments. "It is against the Bible, the Quran" or "it is Western, un-African". Here you see another type of connection between religion and health, which is related to gender justice.
In this module we explore how religious actors can promote health for all.
Challenges and potential
Which of the following statements do you see as an area of potential or as a challenge for collaborating with faith actors on health issues?
#Challenges and potentials SCORM package
Promoting health programmes
Health programming is critical to the well-being of communities. Local faith actors may often have a stronger impact in the communities when promoting health initiatives than a foreign development actor.
Click on the video to hear Caroline Njogy telling how a church in a Kenyan community helped with the promotion of a child vaccination programme.
How the church helped Roda
Roda is from Chawama, a suburb to Lusaka, Zambia. Some years ago, Roda was diagnosed with HIV. She spent two years being sick, but the local priest frequently visited her to give his support and blessings. Although HIV is a major taboo in the community, Roda decided to tell the priest about her illness, and later she also told her family and the rest of the community.
As Roda began to feel better, the priest encouraged her to start a ‘Circle of Hope’, which is a church-based support group for people living with HIV & AIDS. And she did. Previously, there had been a group in the community, but when the founder died, the other members began to feel stigmatised again in the church. Stigmatisation is a big problem for people living with HIV/AIDS, and church members often find it hard to tell that they are HIV positive. A direct consequence of this is that they avoid going to the hospital, or if they have to, they prefer to go to a hospital in a different neighbourhood so that nobody finds out.
Roda's Circle of Hope consists now of 25 members - four men and 21 women. The group members do not only support each other spiritually, but also economically. Each month the members pay 5 kwacha to a savings pot, and they then take turns receiving the collected money. In this way, Roda recently managed to buy 100 chickens when benefiting from the group savings.
Access to Health Services
The UN Sustainable Development Goal #3 “Good
health and well-being” mainly focuses on:
improving reproductive, maternal and
preventing infectious and non-communicable
increasing the access to health services.
In many ways religious actors contribute to achieving SDG #3. Religious leaders may even play a role in increasing access to health services for women in patriarchal cultures.
Click on the video to hear Rev. Bob Kikuyu tell what a pastor did in a situation where a man did not want his expectant wife to go to the hospital to deliver their baby.
FAITH ACTORS AND SRHR
World Vision is one of the FBOs that has a lot of experience with engaging faith actors in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. World Vision uses a combination of content based on sacred scriptures and scientific, health-related information. Their experience is that when faith leaders have the opportunity to explore their faith
traditions, to debunk myths or misinformation about various forms of modern
family planning and to consider the positive implications to mother and child
health of healthy timing and spacing pregnancies, they often become advocates
for family planning and ensuring information to adolescents and young people in
World Vision's Channels
of Hope Maternal Newborn Child Health (MNCH) program in Kenya has been
particularly effective at strengthening local faith leaders and communities for
positive impact as advocates for family planning. Channels of Hope-MNCH is an interactive process
with faith leaders, their spouses and faith communities to become
active participants in the well-being of children through health information
and insight from sacred scriptures. It reaches to the root causes and deepest
convictions that impact attitudes, norms, values and practices toward the most
Listen also to Elaine Neuenfeldt, Gender Program Manager of ACT Alliance, who tells about advocacy work on SRHR.
Please think a moment about health work in your own organisation. To what extent are local faith actors directly involved in health programs? Do you see opportunities for strengthening the positive role of faith actors in promoting health and well-being? And if so, where?