Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Monday, 5 October 2015

Religion from a Public Health Perspective

Do you think religion plays a role in the way individuals lead their lives? Should we assume that religion is a direct indication of civilization which in turn means a universal hygiene standard? Do you think Public Health Practitioners should link hands with the faith-based organizations, clergy or indigenous Traditional religious leaders to promote health? Do you see government and religion playing roles in promoting public health?

I started this short write up with the above questions because it was what I was asking myself as I thought up this topic for the series of Public Health Perspective.

"Cleanliness is next to Godliness." This is an oft repeated saying. A clean or tidy person is said to be godly. At the individual level, right from childhood we are brought up knowing we have a responsibility to look after ourselves as far as hygiene is concerned.

Religion is a powerful tool for social mobilization and organization. Through religion people can be mobilized to get behind a given activity such as hand-washing, wearing masks in case of flu or attending such services that promote quality livelihoods.

Religious organizations are linked to a social development agenda and many are behind the construction and maintenance of facilities such as: hospitals, clinics, counseling units as well as providing a relief for many who may seek solace in prayer when they are downcast.  Religious organizations are major employers the world over. This means that they are contributing to numbers of people who can afford a better living standard, have access to health coverage and services.

Unfortunately, religion can be a stumbling block to public health or in other circumstances public health can clash with morals and values of religions ( e.g., pro-choice, planned parenthood, family planning, use of organs..). Some catastrophic strifes around the world are as a result of religion, e.g., Boko Haram, Militia groups in Central African Republic and ISIL. There are many examples where religion has been used to justify violence, radicalization, anti-muslim sentiment, anti-semitism, abuse of women and racial segregation.

Secretary of State John Kerry states that "one of the most interesting challenges we face in global diplomacy today is th need to fully understand and engage the great impact that a wide range of religious traditions have on foreign affairs." He continues to assert that "religious beliefs shape the views of public and change-makers near and far."

"Religious advocacy groups have long raised awareness about famine and human rights violations abroad.; Buddhist nuns in Nepal play a crucial role in natural disaster recovery efforts; and religious organizations have been essential to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees," Secretary John Kerry continues.

Religion can lay the grounds for:

1. driving the economy
2. addressing corruption
3. combating terrorism
4. mitigating conflict, encouraging pluralism, valuing tolerance and democracy
5. advance women and children rights
6.pacifying warring sides
7. address poverty
8. build structures of responsibility towards one another
9. create greater understanding among peoples and countries
10. addressing the global impact of religion, relations and cooperation among people

In understanding the role of religion, a public health practitioner is able to plan how well to involve religious leaders or understand how religion can help in promoting public health.

1. America (National Catholic Review) September 14, 2015
2. Office of International Religious Freedom, US
3. U.S Strategy on Religious Leaders and Faith Community Engagement

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