“In Sub-Saharan Africa. . .faith-based facilities provide up to 70% of the region’s health care . . . . In other parts of the world, FBOs manage 10–30% of national health sectors. It is estimated that more than 90% of these FBO facility- and community-based programmes offer [maternal and newborn health] MNH services.”
Health programming has been a focus of UNICEF’s work since its founding. The agency has made great strides in immunization, the provision of oral rehydration to save the lives of infants with severe diarrhoea, promoting and protecting breastfeeding, and developing appropriate and effective health education. UNICEF has an extensive global health presence and strong partnerships with governments and NGOs, including religious organizations, at national and community levels.
Why partner with religious communities for health?
Nearly every major religious tradition views life as a sacred gift from a divine creator or creating force(s). Promoting and maintaining good health in children is not only a universal priority but also an obligation in many religious traditions. Mothers and fathers are duty bound to provide for the health of their children, who are not able to care for themselves.
Healing traditions are also found in many religions, from the performance of healing miracles by divine beings or prophets to well-developed medical approaches such as ayurveda in South Asian cultures. Many Buddhist monasteries and temples provide traditional health care to members of the surrounding community. Large-scale hospitals with free care have been a characteristic of Muslim society from early times. There is an extensive platform of Christian health associations across 12 African countries that often provide 30 or 40 per cent of hospital beds and (according to household surveys) up to 15 per cent of all health care (including traditional healers, self-medication, pharmacists, etc.) in their respective countries .
Many religious communities directly provide health-care services, ranging from small community clinics to large hospitals, which often emphasize pre-natal, newborn and children’s health services. While some traditions stress physical health and the prevention of illness, many traditions also recognize the importance of emotional and mental health and encourage practices to promote it, such as meditation (found in some form in most faith traditions, particularly within Hinduism and Buddhism) and prayer. This holistic approach to well-being can be an important foundation on which to build multi-pronged health programming.
“Faith, prayer and fellowship offer comfort to children whose lives are filled with sorrow . . . when they join in prayer with others facing similar hardships, their spirits are uplifted, helping to reduce anxiety and depression. When you add prayer, faith and social support in equal measures you restore hope!” (Jean Webster, Zimbabwe Orphans through Extended Hands)
What can religious communities do to promote child health?