Working as a medical doctor in his home country Malawi seems to have given Dr Mwai Makoka ideal experience for his task of programme executive for Health and Healing at the World Council of Churches (WCC).
He has experience in medical microbiology, HIV and AIDS, working for both government and church-based institutions after graduating as a doctor in Malawi, a country accustomed to working with church-run hospitals.
Prior to joining the WCC in late 2016, Makoka, a Presbyterian, was executive director of the Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM), part of the continent-wide Africa Christian Health Associations Platform (ACHAP) and a member of ACT Alliance.
CHAM is responsible for 37 percent of Malawi's health services, as well as training 80 percent of the southern African nation’s healthcare practitioners.
Now Makoka’s duties involve running an office that liaises with international organizations and nearly 350 member churches in the WCC in different parts of the world.
Churches and healthcare
“This is an old desk. Churches have been involved in health care since time immemorial. Some of my work entails liaising with the WHO (World Health Organization) and consolidating the voice of the churches and the ecumenical family there”.
“We have been working with WHO since it was established. I think we are the first faith-based organization to have a relationship with the WHO,” says Makoka.
He notes that faith-based organizations, especially churches, are essential providers of health services in many countries, especially in Africa.
For example, in Malawi, churches run 11 nursing schools. Its neighbours, Zambia and Zimbabwe have similar involvement of churches in health provision.
“At the WCC we look at holistic health. Health is not medicine. Health is not purely medical. Health is complete well-being’.
“When church leaders are standing in the pulpit and they preach and talk about health issues, they are not digressing. That is the place to talk about health. Health is not just hospitals,” he says showing the coalescing of the spiritual with the practical.
Sustainable Development Goals and health partnership
These days, however, when it comes to global public health, Makoka says it is very difficult to do anything outside the parameters of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), a series of clearly outlined targets for global human development set out by the United Nations for 2030.
“We want to consolidate our response to SDGs as there are many of them.
“There are many mission hospitals, training doctors, nurses and health workers. We need to have a comprehensive strategic plan to see what is unique for our response to SDGs to guide us to 2030.
At the WCC, he says, “we can’t just make the plan here and run with it. We need to consult our constituencies as to how to use, coordinate and share information”.
This entails “South to South” sharing within developing areas of best practices and information. There is also the sustaining and improving of relationships with other institutions that can help build capacities, working with medical and academic institutions, non-government organizations and state players.
One of the goals is to help develop models to increase universal health coverage, making sure there are not duplications within the relevant institutions forging synergies.
“For example there is ACHAP and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) the continental ecumenical body that has interaction with African Union (AU),” explains Makoka.
ACHAP, which focuses on health, does not have a relationship with the AU. And if the AU, which is also involved with the SDGs, gives the AACC, with which it does have relations, a health question, it can take it to ACHAP.
“Instead of the AACC feeling it has its hands tied, we can work as a unified family. Part of my job is facilitating that.”
Dr Makoka also notes, “Mapping of churches involvement in healthcare is high on our agenda. It has been discussed, but more progress needs to be made. There have been isolated efforts here. Now that I am here, this will be one of the first parts of my work.”
Mapping of churches′ involvement and interaction with health care institutions is not only necessary in Africa where ACHAP met this year, but is also needed in other regions such as the Pacific, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and South America.
“It will be a very important tool. Mapping is not just for prestige. It is valuable to know about your work to help in advocacy for resources mobilization and allocation,” says Makoka.
“If providers of health services do not have clear data, they might not have resources allocated to them. If you have data you can more easily lobby for resources, for example, with members of parliaments.”
Dr Makoka gives the example of the enduring presence of church-run medical services in countries where the state has ceased to function effectively such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or even more recently South Sudan.
“The state may have ceased functioning in South Sudan, but the churches continue to run the medical services. The state may not be there to provide these for the people, but the church is always there.”
“And when we look at fighting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone [from 2014], the churches were running 50 percent of the medical services,” so the WHO had to rely on their help eventually in countering the pandemic.”
“Health and healing for all people, that is the challenge” (WCC press release of 28 February 2017)
WCC to develop Global Ecumenical Health Strategy, starting in Lesotho (WCC press release of 23 February 2017)