Church cooperation with WHO to impact community health

Church cooperation with WHO to impact community health

Business Meetings | Atlanta, Georgia, United States | Arin Gencer/ANN

Areas of focus include physical growth, mental health, disease prevention

Seventh-day Adventist churches should become community health centers, using grassroots influence to promote healthy living and wellness, said church and international health officials during a lunch seminar Tuesday at the 59th General Conference Session.

"At the General Conference level, we can talk, but we know the implementation starts at your level, in the field," said Allan Handysides, Health Ministries director for the world church.

Handysides was speaking with a panel of representatives of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional office of the World Health Organization, which recently established collaboration with the Adventist Church. They and the church's Health Ministries officials encouraged congregations to find ways to promote better lifestyles among people in their communities, while also describing PAHO's work and role.

"There are organizations where there are people of integrity, people of mission. .. and purpose, commitment and dedication," Handysides said, praising PAHO for its openness and willingness to collaborate.

"Dealing with health aspects at the community level requires really that we all work at our level to improve health," said Hernan Montenegro, project coordinator for integrated health services for PAHO, a regional agency of the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency. "At the community level, you are in a privileged situation because you understand that community, you know it, you know the people, you know their history, you know their culture."

Indeed, said Christopher Drasbeck, PAHO's senior advisor for integrated child health, "working with faith-based organizations is a very important, sustainable relationship that we need to work on collectively."

Drasbeck cited the rather bleak statistics that his organization seeks to combat: 8.8 million children under age 5 die every year because of pneumonia, diarrhea and malnutrition, according to 2008 data. In the Caribbean and Latin America, nearly 400,000 children under that age die, he added.

"We can prevent two-thirds of those deaths with low-cost, evidence-based, highly effective interventions," Drasbeck said, referring to the latter statistic. "With the church. ... we're hoping we can work on that together.

The interventions -- 16 "key family practices" -- are simple and promote such things as physical growth, mental health, disease prevention and seeking care, Drasbeck said.

"You are the ones that are empowered with making these decisions and intervening in your community," Drasbeck said to the church leaders and members in attendance. "We could all say that we're all community health workers. ... We have to approach this as a community-based project."

PAHO is there to facilitate the work and provide resources, he added. Handysides emphasized that PAHO is not a funding organization.

In a similar effort to promote healthful living, the world church's Health Ministries Department also recently launched a new website -- www.positivechoices.com -- and is working on another, www.healthministries.com.

PositiveChoices.com provides a "balanced, evidence-based, practical view of the Adventist health to the world on the Web," with daily health tips and other information, said Fred Hardinge, a health expert who developed the site and helped create Bibleinfo.com.

The Adventist Church was invited to explore a working relationship with the World Health Organization in December 2007. Some have expressed reluctance at working with other organizations that may have political connections or agendas. But others have emphasized the potential of such a connection, giving the two organizations better access to networks and resources as they seek to improve health in local communities. The church is also seeking to help WHO meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include improving maternal health and fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria.

In April, church officials voted to accept the World Health Organization's invitation to collaborate in a program to reduce maternal and infant mortality.