Report: Global Health and Africa | Assessing Faith Work and Research Priorities

Foundation Update

Report: Global Health and Africa | Assessing Faith Work and Research Priorities

16 Apr 2012

Faith communities, especially at the community level, contribute in countless ways to health care. This report provides a full scale literature review of the role and impact of faith inspired organizations. It finds documentary evidence that they are frequently very effective health providers. It also highlights the extensive research challenge that exists.

Since 2008, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation has contributed to the study of faith and globalisation, and supported the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals by faith communities. It is committed to contributing to expanding policy research and evidence about how to realize the MDGs and achieve better health for all.

The Foundation's conviction that a full review was needed was sparked during its 2009 conference on Faith and Malaria in partnership with Yale University. An intense two-day workshop involving many of the large international development agencies, a number of African health ministers, academics and faith leaders yielded the following reactions:

- From faith communities to governments and donors: "how can we better understand your demands and requirements so that we are able to work effectively with you and other networks?" and

- From government and donors to the faith communities: "can you produce evidence that funds allocated to a faith community, in an integrated health system, will be as (or maybe more) effective as the same sum placed through a government or NGO program?"

The next steps agreed were to make the case for the proper integration of faith communities into national health systems more effectively by:

1. Bringing together current academic research to gain a better understanding of the state of knowledge of the sector and to undertake new research where required; and

2. Scaling up current and developing new models of community action in behaviour communication change.

3. Thereby effectively demonstrating faith communities' potential for making a greater contribution within integrated national health systems and to elucidate the comparative advantage of the faith sector.

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation and its partners, including the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), Notre Dame University and the International Religious Health Assets Program IRHAP have since been working to accomplish these goals. WFDD authored this report, which focuses on the first goal.

In pursuit of the second goal, the Foundation runs or supports a number of behavioural change communication field studies, including work in Uganda with Notre Dame University exploring the comparative effectiveness of religious leaders in educating communities on clean water usage, and the Foundation's national Faiths Act health program of malaria prevention in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone work is being carefully evaluated by Ipsos MORI later in 2012, but initial indicators show that in just 6 months more than 75,000 households have been directly visited by community representatives and trained in the Ministry of Health's five key messages for malaria prevention. The project adopts a cascade model, with Muslim and Christian leaders identifying, training and motivating community leaders to deliver behavior change designed to protect their families. We're also grateful to our colleagues at the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association, and their supporters at CIFA in Washington, for insights from evaluations of their program to train faith leaders and their communities in the importance and effective use of bed-nets.

This report forms the first of several pieces of evidence that the Tony Blair Faith Foundation will be producing over the coming years. We are extremely grateful to the WFDD for their research and drafting of this report. We commend it to you as a comprehensive and timely contribution to this under-researched but essential area of healthcare and development.

Download the full report here.

Charlotte KeenanDirector of Projects, Tony Blair Faith Foundation