A Groundbreaking Interfaith Programme to Tackle Malaria in Sierra Leone
18 May 2011
Today in Freetown, faith leaders from across Sierra Leone have come together with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation for a groundbreaking workshop.
The three-day workshop will create a public health messaging programme to be delivered by faith leaders across the country which aims to prevent deaths from malaria, still one of the biggest killers of Sierra Leonian children under the age of five.
The opening ceremony of the workshop was attended by the First Lady, Mrs Sia Nyama Koroma, and other national dignitaries.
The workshop was conceived by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation which believes that faith leaders can make a real impact in reaching out to their communities. The Foundation's Faiths Act programme is putting this into practice on health messaging by creating an effective programme for faith leaders to roll out in Sierra Leone. The workshop will cover key preventative health messages on malaria, such as the importance of using bed nets and how they should be utilised.
Tony Blair, Founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation said:
"The people who can make this happen are those whom have authority in their local communities: Imams, Priests and Pastors, respected women and faith elders. What they say and recommend carries weight, especially here in Sierra Leone where most of the population go to the Church or Mosque on a regular basis. The message of both Islam and the Gospel contain the calling to ensure good health. Faith Leaders are able to pass on simple but vital health messages to their communities, plan educational training sessions, and engage schools and faith groups. The great strength of churches and mosques are not so much their bricks and mortar – though their hospitals and dispensaries play a vital role in many areas - but their communities, networks and leaders."
The Faiths Act workshop will be focussed on bringing the unique qualities of Sierra Leone's faith communities together in a practical way. The aim is to provide the space and time for faith leaders, ministry colleagues and other health leaders to plan an initial programme of education and training together to support existing efforts in halting and reversing the spread of malaria in Sierra Leone. At the end of the workshop, partnerships and networks will be agreed across faith communities, and a commitment to an action plan implemented by trained Malaria Faiths Ambassadors (MFAs) who will train community Malaria Faiths Champions (MFCs) to spread the message household by household.
Sheikh Abubakar Conteh, President of the Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone, said in his welcome speech:
"The workshop is indeed a groundbreaking exercise in the sense that for the first time in the history of our nation, three very important institutions responsible for the spiritual and total wellbeing of mankind came together to deliberate on health issues with a special focus on malaria, one of the most widespread infectious diseases of our time. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation identified Sierra Leone as a fertile soil for the seed of the Faiths Act programme to germinate. Sierra Leone is blessed with a very high level of religious tolerance. For any national programme to gain momentum, the involvement of leaders of our two main denominations is crucial.
"Our Holy Prophet (SAW) has stressed the importance of health many times. He once said to one of his Companions: 'O Abass, ask Allah for health in this world and in the next. No supplication is more pleasing to Allah than a request for good health. Health is a hidden kingdom."
Rev. Usman Fornah of the Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone said:
"The Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone is delighted to collaborate with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Ministry of Health in the workshop 'Faiths Act to Save Lives in Sierra Leone'. The faiths have always worked together in Sierra Leone and the scourge of malaria is a great contemporary challenge for us. So many Sierra Leonians will be suffering from infection and fever now that the rains have started and some are dying. Both our main faiths teach protection of our children who suffer worst. We will grasp this opportunity to eliminate this killer and debilitating disease in all our work right across the country."
Working in partnership, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, alongside the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS), the Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone, faith organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), will promote this endeavour by providing access to health educational materials and marshalling available expertise to religious communities.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation aims to build respect and understanding between the major religions. The Foundation creates opportunities for people of faith and none to come together to learn directly from each other and to take joint action on shared humanitarian goals.