Because they are trusted, faith communities are vital in COVID fight, says WHO chief

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)World Council of Churches acting general secretary Ioan Sauca (L) and Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, maintain physical distance when meeting at a Dialogue on COVID-19 and Consequences for Global Multilateral Cooperation in Geneva on Aug. 30, 2021.

Because they are so trusted, faith communities, are essential in every response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization has told an interfaith gathering.

Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO spoke at the "Dialogue on COVID-19 and Consequences for Global Multilateral Cooperation" on Aug. 30.

He said the faith groups along with international organizations, foundations, the private sector, and civil society organizations make up theo groups need to tackle the pandemic that has claimed more than 4.5 million lives with 219 million cases worldwide since it started.

The event was hosted in Geneva, Switzerland by The Foundation Dialogue for Peace and moderated by Norway's former prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Along with the World Council of Churches, representatives from the Muslim World League, WHO and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies shared experiences with ministers, ambassadors, politicians, peace associations and others.

"We all have a role to play -- governments, international organizations, foundations, the private sector, civil society organizations, and faith-based organizations," said Tedros.

"Engaging and empowering communities is essential in every area, but especially in outbreak response."

The WHO chief noted that the global pandemic has shown how inadequate community engagement can lead to fear, mistrust, and weaker political and social relations.

He said, "Faith communities have played a particularly important role for many people in the funding, trust, the sources of support, comfort, guidance, and information with the support of the COVID-19 solidarity response fund."


"Ultimately, the best way is to keep communities healthy and safe, engaged, informed and empowered by leaders and institutions they trust to protect themselves, and faith-based organizations are the most trusted," said Tedros.

WHO was seeking support for local vaccination targets, getting at least 10 percent of the population of every country jabbed by the end of September and at least 40 percent by the end of the year.

The goal is also for the vaccination of 70 percent of the world's population by the middle of next year.

In addition, WHO is seeking support for developing and adopting an international treaty or other legal instruments for preparedness and response to future pandemics.

Aamir Javed Sheikh, head of the Norway-based Foundation Dialogue for Peace, said that, given the pandemic and the desperate situation in Afghanistan, such a meeting "in Geneva, the capital of peace," is needed so "we can become their hope."

He cited the tragedy of women and children in Afghanistan facing decades of setback due to the takeover of the Taliban.

Another keynote speaker was Dr. Muhammad Bin Abulkarim Al-Issa, secretary general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, who urged cooperation between different religions and communities.


In his keynote speech, WCC acting general secretary Rev. Ioan Sauca, reflected on "our shared vulnerability—and shared fate—as one humanity" in dealing with the pandemic.

"It is the pandemic that brings us together today, even as the virus and its variants run rampant and the enormous task of vaccinating, protecting and aiding the population continues to tax our health and economic systems," he said.

"This is the moment for all of us -- in the UN, non-governmental organizations, civil society and religious organizations such as the WCC -- to step up and give our all to defeating the virus and ensuring the safety and health of people everywhere," said Sauca.

"We pledge ourselves in solidarity to this campaign for life for all!"

Sauca explained, "As a Christian fellowship, it is our duty and moral obligation to publicly challenge rumours and myths and confront them with facts.

"While moral and ethical concerns also loom over vaccine access and distribution practices, we must take up responsibility and advocate for what is right from a medical, ethical and human rights perspective."

He noted that earlier, the WCC joined with the World Jewish Congress in a joint statement inviting religious leaders of all traditions and locations to reflect on and engage the myriad of ethical issues related to global vaccine distribution.

Further, citing a decision earlier this year by the WCC executive committee, he said, "We urge greater support for and contributions to the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP)...and to the COVAX facility for more equitable distribution of available vaccine supplies."

In another address, Jagan Chapagain, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, "Today we have so many competing crises -- climate change, COVID-19, massive social-economic inequality, disasters, conflict, marginalization, and discrimination.

"This COVID-19 shows the strength of the communities; they could mobilize themselves to address their needs, of course with global solidarity."

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