Religion & Public Health

Faiths United for Health is an interfaith initiative to combat malaria in Africa, which was launched by the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA), in collaboration with the Nigerian Inter‐Faith Action Association (NIFAA) and with the support of several international NGOs. Although the project has pan-African goals, it initially focused on Nigeria, where malaria had been a particular problem, accounting for one quarter of malaria deaths in Africa.[1]

Faiths United for Health was publicly launched at a press conference in Abuja on December 10, 2009, but represents the confluence of national and international initiatives dedicated to combating pandemic diseases in Africa.[2] In 2008, the Secretary‐General of the United Nations, Ban Ki- Moon, set an ambitious goal for the international community: to provide insecticide‐treated bed nets for every bed in Africa by the end of 2010 and eliminate malaria‐related deaths by 2015.[3] In an effort to achieve this goal, CIFA and the UN Special Envoy on Malaria launched the One World Against Malaria Campaign at a May 2009 summit in Washington, DC.[4] The summit marked the launch of a unique approach to malaria, which emphasized the role that faith communities and faith-based organizations could play in battling the disease. At the summit, the Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, and the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III announced the formation of the Nigerian Inter-Faith Action Association, which had already garnered local attention in Nigeria and a promise of $2 million in funding from the Nigerian National Malaria Control Programme.[5] At the Summit, CIFA and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation also announced a joint initiative to help other sub-Saharan countries develop similar interfaith action associations.[6]

Faiths United for Health is an outgrowth of the summit and the result of collaboration between faith-based organizations, international NGOs, and the local government. The collaborative nature of Faiths United for Health and the international interest in the project was apparent at the 2009 Abuja press conference where the program was launched. In addition to the leaders of NIFAA, the Sultan of Sokoto and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the press conference was also hosted by the Nigerian Minister of Health, the UN Secretary‐General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, the World Bank Country Director, and the Methodist Prelate of Nigeria.[7]

The number of participants in the press conference also hints at the ambitious nature of the project, which requires support at many levels and $1 billion in funding.[8] At the initial launch of the program, CIFA and NIFAA trained 100 Nigerian faith leaders in malaria prevention and education, who were each charged with training another cohort of leaders. In this way, FUH organizers hoped to engage a network of 300,000 faith leaders in the fight against malaria.[9]

Despite initial international interest and a large funding network, however, it is unclear whether the program has been successful. Jay Winston, the Associate Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health has noted that anti‐malaria campaigns first have to overcome local perceptions about malaria, such as the assumption that it is caused by too much sun rather than by mosquito bites, and the complacency that has developed from living in an endemic area for decades. It is also notable that FUH’s efforts have only focused on Muslim and Christian communities, and have not included resources for leaders of indigenous religions.[10] The resources FUH has developed also fail to take into account any internal diversity within Christianity and Islam. The “sermon starters” provided in FUH materials are presented as universally applicable within a given religion, although it is entirely possible that a Pentecostal sermon might require a different approach than an Anglican one. Although an analysis of the effectiveness of FUH is unavailable as of this writing, NIFAA continues to work on the ground to engage faith leaders in the fight against malaria.[11]

[1] "Stopping a Killer: Preventing Malaria in Our Communities (Christian)—CIFA," Religions for Peace International, n.d., http://religionsforpeaceinternational.org/publications/stopping-killer-preventing-malaria-our-communities-christian-cifa, accessed 6 November 2013; "Malaria—Osotimehin, Religious Leaders Advocate Cooperation", This Day, 13 May 2009, http://allafrica.com/stories/200905140079.html, accessed 6 November 2013.

[2] "Stopping a Killer: Preventing Malaria in Our Communities (Christian)—CIFA."

[3] Max Amuchie, "Global Action Against Malaria,” Business Day, May 10, 2009, http://businessdayonline.com/global-action-against-malaria-and-the-interfaith-perspective/, accessed 6 November 2013.

[4] Sam Hiersteiner, "Nigerian Faith Leaders Launch Campaign Against Malaria," in Presbyterian Church USA, December 10, 2009, https://www.pcusa.org/news/2009/12/10/nigerian-faith-leaders-launch-campaign-against-mal/, accessed 6 November 2013; "Daily Press Briefing by Offices of Spokesperson for Secretary General", US Fed News, 25 April 2009, https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-215188715.html, accessed 6 November, 2013.

[5] Amuchie, "Global Action Against Malaria.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hiersteiner, "Nigerian Faith Leaders Launch Campaign Against Malaria."

[8] Aaron J. Leichman, "Nigeria's Religious Leaders Launch $1B Effort to Tackle Malaria," The Christian Post, 11 December 2009, http://www.christianpost.com/news/nigeria-religious-leaders-launch-1b-effort-to-tackle-malaria-42233/, accessed November 6, 2013.

[9] Hiersteiner, "Nigerian Faith Leaders Launch Campaign Against Malaria"; Jay Winsten, "The Sultan and the Archbishop: Joining Hands, Saving Lives," The Huffington Post, 9 December 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-winsten/the-sultan-and-the-archbi_b_386381.html, accessed November 6, 2013.

[10] "Faiths United for Health: A Toolkit for Faith Leaders in Nigeria in the Fight Against Malaria," Pamphlet, Nigerian Inter-Faith Action Association, n.d.

[11] "World Malaria Day—UN Calls for More Efforts to Curb Deaths," Vanguard, 26 April 2013, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2013/04/world-malaria-day-un-calls-for-more-efforts-to-curb-deaths/, accessed November 6, 2013.