The role of faith-based healthcareReview by Steve Fouch CMF Head of Nursing
In July, The Lancet launched a landmark series of papers on the role of faith groups in the delivery of healthcare worldwide. (1)
Three papers explore the breadth and impact of faith-based healthcare, the controversies that exist and both practical and positive examples of positive partnerships.
Evidence for the breadth and depth of religious organisations' engagement with healthcare is sketchy. Almost certainly in Sub-Saharan Africa faith groups play a significant role, but the evidence suggests it may not be quite as big or as effective as some estimate. However, there is evidence that Christian healthcare institutions and programmes are more prevalent in poor rural African communities and that the overall patient satisfaction is high.
Inevitably, controversies around sexual and reproductive health, abortion, sexuality, gender, violence against women, female genital mutilation, immunisation, harm reduction, HIV, stigma, and evangelism have all created tensions for secular bodies working with faith groups. Engagement with faith practices and spirituality is something of a blind spot for many governments and NGOs. Yet there have been many instances where a constructive engagement has led to effective partnerships. (2) It is clear that we need greater faith literacy amongst secular bodies and greater health literacy by faith leaders.
We face a potentially significant turning point in global health and development, with the official launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York last September. Goal three - ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages (3) - could see a significant increase in access to affordable, appropriate healthcare for the world's poorest people. Governments will need to engage with religious groups (to which nearly 80% of the world's population are adherents) to achieve this.
There will be some hard-core sceptics and secular ideologues who will decry this, but the evidence against their position is mounting.
Christians have engaged with health issues since the first century. (4) Care for the sick, vulnerable and dying is an integral expression of our faith. (5) Churches and church hospitals are often the only local infrastructure in many poor communities. They were there long before the donors turned up. They will be there long, long after these donors have gone off after their next new priority or when the next set of goals are agreed. While the two sides may not always share the same agenda, on the whole they share the same concerns. It is important that we find common ground to work together in many areas, if we can only learn to talk to each other.