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Faith groups an 'underused health resource'

A new study published in the Lancet explains that religious organisations such as the Salvation Army or Tearfund have a crucial role in providing support to people all over the world.

It claims that the health of people in the developing world could be improved if governments and secular agencies use the extensive experience, strengths, and capacities of faith-based organisations.

"Not every community has health services, but most have some type of faith-based group," the author of the report, Professor Edward Mills, explained.

"Religious groups are major players in the delivery of healthcare, particularly in hard-to-reach and rural areas that are not adequately served by government. Yet, the general medical community knows very little about them."

The research looks at how the Christian communities have influenced during epidemics such as the Ebola crisis. It also talks about how churches and their leaders can play big roles in getting messages out to their communities.

It uses the example of World Vision's 'Channels of Hope' project, which mobilised hundreds of thousands of local faith leaders to transform health and development in local communities. The authors claim with more support from "governments, donors, and international faith networks, this movement could rapidly scale up to reach millions of people with critical health issues".

While some have accused church groups of being at odds with medics on healthcare issues such as how to control the outbreak of HIV, the authors are optimistic that with better understanding and cooperation, improved services with a better reach can be accomplished.

Professor Mills said: "As the global health community plans for sustainable health goals for the future, it will be crucial to leverage existing infrastructure and existing community partnerships to improve health outcomes.

"Faith-based organisations often represent the only health infrastructure in a region and have strong cultural ties to the communities. It is time for the general medical community to recognise the magnitude of services offered and partner or support to provide long-standing improvements in health."

Listen to Steve Fouch from the Christian Medical Fellowship speaking to Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour:

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