The pandemic has highlighted the importance of partnerships in responding to health emergencies. The WHO Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN) team is spotlighting partnerships between WHO, faith partners and national governments in the global conference Strengthening National Responses to Health Emergencies co-hosted with Religions for Peace.
The conference looks at the diverse contributions of faith partners in the COVID-19 response including providing spiritual care, working with national governments and WHO to support national responses, and their instrumental work advocating for vaccine equity, access and uptake.
In October four events took place regarding spiritual care during times of crisis. Panelists from around the world came together to share experiences and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic – including experiences working as chaplains, in palliative care, providing spiritual and mental health care, and from providing social care within communities. The events drew attention to the broad and impactful role faith leaders, organizations, and communities have played during this critical time.
The newly published World Health Organization strategy for engaging religious leaders,
faith-based organizations and faith communities in health emergencies outlines the commitment to continue working together so that more people are better protected and enjoying better health and well-being. The strategy is a milestone for strengthening collaboration and national responses, the importance of which was demonstrated in country case studies also highlighted during the conference.
Kenya and Zimbabwe case studies explored the innovative ways in which these three actors work together to address misinformation and mistrust, communication, psychological, mental and social needs, promotion of protective measures, vaccine access and uptake.
Vivian Mugarisi, Communication Officer, WCO Zimbabwe moderating during the Zimbabwe case study session of the global conference
In Kenya, places of worship are reported as one of the most trusted sources of information. Recognizing that faith partners are at the heart of the response the Kenyan government initiated the establishment of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya. Dr. Salim Hussein, Head of Primary Health Care, Kenya Ministry of Health noted that “a lot of implementations would not have been possible if partners of the religious fraternity had not been complementary to us [the Ministry of Health].”
By working together, faith partners, WHO and the MOH, protect and save lives as places of worship and health facilities adhere to protocols and guidelines, health messages are technically accurate and tailored to different faiths, and communities are engaged, including for vaccination.
Together WHO, the MOH, UNICEF and faith partners in Zimbabwe hosted a series of trainings for faith leaders and communities. Reverend Dr Kenneth Mtata, General Secretary of Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), explained that “We have learnt a lot from this [pandemic]. We need to redefine and strengthen the relationship between faith-based organizations, WHO, UNICEF and MOH because we have a lot to do in common.
The new WHO strategy seeks to support this intention to strengthen collaboration both now, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact communities around the world, and in the future as we collectively prepare for other health crises.
Recordings of the conference session can be accessed here