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Statement on Ecumenical Witness and Action for Primary Health Care for All

Statement by WCC Executive Committee, November 2018

07 November 2018

World Council of Churches
Uppsala, Sweden
2-8 November 2018
Doc. No.


Statement on Ecumenical Witness and Action for Primary Health Care for All:
40th Anniversary of the Alma-Ata Declaration

Since its establishment the WCC has supported the work of its member churches and national ecumenical bodies, as well as government authorities, for the health and wellbeing of all people. Such support has included providing technical assistance and accompaniment to church health services and structures, promoting the establishment of ecumenical Christian health associations, and organising national health structures, as well as international health structures such as the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network (EPN) and the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA).

The WCC central committee meeting in August 1967 mandated the establishment of the Christian Medical Commission (CMC) to accompany and help coordinate the health and healing ministries of the WCC member churches. The main purpose of CMC was promotion and advocacy for community-based health care programmes. The principles undergirding these programmes were in turn adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF in 1975, under the rubric of Primary Health Care (PHC). In 1978, the first international conference on PHC produced the Alma-Ata Declaration, with its vision of “health for all by the year 2000”, and identifying PHC as the key to the attainment of this goal. This outcome is widely recognized as a major milestone of the twentieth century in the field of public health.

The WCC executive committee, meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, 2-8 November 2018, recognises that while much has been achieved in many areas of global health, the vision of “health for all” remains largely unachieved. Healthcare and related services have become a major industry driven by the pursuit of profit, and often excluding the poor. However, the WCC considers the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental human right, and an essential foundation for the realization of the God-given dignity of every human being.

We lift up the contribution that churches and related organizations around the globe continue to make to promote health and wellbeing, especially to marginalised and poor people in many parts of the world, often at significant cost to the churches and through great personal sacrifice by frontline health workers. We also affirm the important ecumenical role that Christian health networks play, greatly enhancing the effectiveness and impact of church-based health services that might otherwise be denominationally fragmented and disconnected.

We acknowledge with appreciation the address by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), to the WCC central committee meeting in June 2018, and his affirmation that “the time is right for a new memorandum of understanding to mobilize faith-based organizations (FBOs) for universal health coverage.”

The WCC executive committee:

Encourages all WCC member churches to recommit themselves to Christian service in the field of primary health care, for effective national health structures, and to the realization of the vision of health for all.

Requests the general secretary to pursue closer cooperation and partnership with the World Health Organization in the realization of this vision, to mobilize faith-based organizations for universal health coverage.

Further requests the general secretary to ensure that promotion of primary health care for all is emphasized in the implementation of the WCC’s new Global Ecumenical Health Strategy.

Urges WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to engage in advocacy and action for the right for all to have access to medicines at an affordable price (including traditional medicines and treatments which have been proven to be efficacious), and for international health research - including the development of medicines and treatments – to be re-focused on illnesses and afflictions that particularly affect the marginalized and poor people of the world.

Invites engagement by WCC member churches and ecumenical partners in proactive church-based health promotion activities, including the promotion of active and healthy lifestyles, support for cessation of unhealthy lifestyles, and the development and dissemination of biblical reflections on health and healing.