World health chief pays tribute to faith leaders in fight against COVID-19

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses journalists on July 3, 2020.

The World Health Organization chief has played tribute to religious leaders from around the world for the role they have played a vital role in communicating with their communities on the COVID-19 pandemic.

"For so many people, faith communities are trusted sources of support, comfort, guidance and information," said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus in a March 19 speech to faith leaders made from Geneva.

"In many countries, faith communities are also key providers of health and social services, education and food programs," he said thanking them "for this critical role you are playing in the global response."

Tedros said he was honoured have an opportunity to speak with senior religious leaders from around the world level dialogue on multi-religious response to COVID-19 vaccines.

In the field learned the WHO learned crucial need to have faith leaders in West Africa in the fight against the infectious and lethal EBOLA disease from 2014-2016. Both EBOLA and COVID-19 are zoonotic diseases.

"I don't need to tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down.

More than 2.7 million people have died and the world has registered 123 million cases since it was known of from it origins in China at then end of December in 2019.

"Millions of people have lost their jobs. Fear, uncertainty and suspicion abound," said the WHO chief.

Tedros told journalists on Feb. 19, "After six weeks of declining cases in January and February, we are now on track for a fourth consecutive week of increasing cases.

For the moment, the number of deaths is still declining, but at a slower rate.

Five days earlier the WHO chief told d director-general said in a pre-recorded video message at an online seminar in support of a World Council of Churches-led Week of Prayer on the pandemic.

"In times of crisis, faith is a source of support, comfort and guidance for billions of people, particularly those in vulnerable situations," said Tedros.

"This can not only help stop the spread of the disease but also reduce fear and stigma and provide reassurance to communities. I know that because of the pandemic, many faith communities have not been able to meet as you would normally," said Tedros.

He added, "May the week of prayer bring renewed strength and resolve for you and your work."

The role of faith-based organizations (FBOs) need more documentation and research and date is often sketchy.

In 2008 the Gates Foundation commissioned The African Religious Health Assets Program (ARHAP) (5) to carry out a wide-ranging study looking at the contribution of religious entities to health in Sub- Saharan Africa, the UK-based Christian Medical Fellowship says.

They found that the proportion of services provided by faith groups of all kinds varied across the continent, ranging from 25 percent in some Francophone Muslim countries to as much as 70 percent in parts of East and Southern Africa.

Mission hospitals and church-based clinics are the main providers of facility-based services.

That is why enlisting faith leaders in a continent like Africa is essential in fighting a deadly pandemic like COVID-19 and trying to get the populations vaccinated against the virus.

Yet in some countries, notably developed countries including the United States some churches and Christian ministries have come under fire for spreading misinformation about vaccines which are seen as exacerbating the disease.

"Some churches and Christian ministries with large online followings — as well as Christian influencers on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube — are making false claims that vaccines contain fetal tissue or microchips, or are construing associations between vaccine ingredients and the devil," The Washington Post reported on Feb. 16.

"Others talk about how coronavirus vaccines and masks contain or herald the 'mark of the beast,' a reference to an apocalyptic passage from the Book of Revelation that suggests that the Antichrist will test Christians by asking them to put a mark on their bodies."


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