“It’s time to be brave, to form diverse partnerships”
Dr Mwai Makoka, WCC programme executive for Health and Healing, was one of the speakers of the biennial conference of ACHAP. ©Albin Hillert/WCC
Mar 02, 2017
By Albin Hillert*
“How can we work together, to share what it is in our hands, share the work that is before us? How can we empower one another, capacity-build our religious leaders and mobilize our congregations, to be more proactive in health-promoting issues?”
Dr Samuel Mwenda, general secretary of the Christian Health Association of Kenya and outgoing vice chair of the board of the Africa Christian Health Associations Platform (ACHAP), reflects at the biennial conference of ACHAP in Maseru, Lesotho this week.
ACHAP, formed 10 years ago with strong support from the World Council of Churches, has brought together Christian health associations as well as ecumenical and international partners from more than 50 countries to meet under the theme “Building partnerships for FBO Health Systems Strengthening towards achievement of Sustainable Development Goals”.
The challenge of data and evidence
“There are many challenges facing faith-based healthcare providers today,” says Mwenda.
“We see a growing need to modernize, to go with the demands and expectations of the new generation, and we also see a change in the nature of the diseases that face us.”
“Today, there are a number of non-communicable diseases, which require not only treatment and a cure, but a different style of treatment, and long-term commitment on behalf of healthcare service providers and patients.”
“Another challenge we have acknowledged,” Mwenda adds, “is the issue of data and evidence. We often feel our work is not visible enough, that we do not have enough data and documentation. And so we ask ourselves how we can be more deliberate in planning, in ensuring we allocate enough time and resources to develop health systems that give records of our work?”
Dr Jill Olivier, research manager of the Health Policy and Systems division at the University of Cape Town, continues, “I have been coming to these meetings for many years. The problem of evidence often comes up, and it is certainly true that without data and documentation, it is really hard to make your case as a partner applying for funds.”
“Yet I would stress that often what is needed is not really more data, but the right data, or the right understanding of available data.”
“I very rarely see Christian health associations make use of student theses, for example, or discuss what type of research and data would be the most useful to them,” says Olivier.
“While it is true that there is often a lack of data records ranging back longer than a few years, in the face of all the demands for evidence today, I believe much can be achieved if we learn to translate already existing research and available data into practice, and into policy, towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
Forming stronger partnerships
“Faith-based organizations have always focused on holistic care,” Mwenda says. “And it is with joy that we see the SDGs very much reflect this today. We chose good health and well-being of the whole person, and we say it is not just about the physical, not just about a lack of physical disease, but also the wellness of the mind, of the soul, and of the relationships in the families and in the communities. For us that is what well-being means.”
“One could say there has been some suspicion in the past,” adds Karen Sichinga, executive director of the Christian Health Association of Zambia, and outgoing first chair of the ACHAP board, “but we shouldn’t have a phobia of research. We should try to do research, or partner with research institutions, so that we can have some evidence of the contributions we make in the health sector in our respective countries.”
“As an ecumenical movement in the area of health, we need to be brave enough to also move forward and mobilize new partnerships, apart from those that are already in our family,” Sichinga adds.
“I believe we now need to be brave enough to partner also with other parts of civil society, with international partners, and with the private sector.”
SDGs connecting local and global
“For me what I see is we are acknowledging that the work we take in our hands is too much for any one person, or any one institution or organization,” says Mwenda.
“But the SDGs can only be accomplished through multiple partnerships. Although there were some partnerships in the past, they were often limited, and I think it is time we open ourselves up to more diverse partnerships, with governments, development partners, the international community, other faith organizations, donors, private sector agencies, with communities, academia, and research institutions.”
“Yet we must also be willing to ask the difficult questions,” comments Sister Deena from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, president of the Catholic Health Association of India.
“A key step in moving forward is to build awareness of the SDGs among the people. And in the Indian context, I see we work towards the SDGs in the health sector, but a lot of people are not really aware of the goals most of the time.”
“So how far have we come with the grassroots? That is my question. Are the people of Africa aware of all these things, and to what extent are we reaching out to them? That is a painful question for each and each every one of us. But how else can we connect the grassroots all the way to the international community?” Deena asks.
Sister Clara Rakhomo, hospital administrator at Paray Mission Hospital in Thaba-Tseka, Lesotho, comments, “I work in a facility that is right in the mountains, and where the geography itself is a challenge. For a person to reach the hospital, they have to travel long distances.”
“But the church itself in this ministry has to have a coordinated approach, to make sure we can reach each and every person, especially those in need in remote areas.”
“We often say that together we can achieve, while alone it is not so easy. In our experience, through collaborations in the Christian Health Association of Lesotho we have seen that it is only through strong partnerships that we are able to respond to the needs of our people,” Rakhomo says.
Sichinga concludes, “ACHAP is now ten years old. It may be a young organisation, but over ten years we have matured, and one thing we have learnt is that we must listen very carefully to the communities, if we want to truly understand what is needed in each context.”
“We hope we will soon gain stronger recognition by instances such as the WHO, so we can connect and share our experience and knowledge of local communities’ needs at the global level.”
*Albin Hillert is a WCC photographer, writer and communications consultant based in Stockholm, Sweden.