Partnering with religious groups is crucial to the successful implementation of vaccination programmes worldwide, according to a new guide launched by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) highlighting the increasing importance of community organizations in global public health initiatives.
"There are many communities without schools, health facilities or sanitation but there is hardly any community without a place of worship," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in a statement on the guide's launch yesterday in Geneva at a two-day meeting of experts on immunization. "The active participation of religious groups is therefore crucial to the success of any community-based initiative."
Over 50 public health and religious community insiders attended the conference, "Building Trust: Religious Groups, the Media and Immunization," jointly organized by UNICEF, the World Conference on Religion for Peace (WRCP) and the Communication for Social Change Consortium - the first in a series geared at integrating religious communities in immunization efforts.
The conference featured in-depth discussions about the challenges and successes of working with religious communities in Nigeria, Iran, the Philippines and India. The guide includes extensive case studies of lessons learned and success stories from Sierra Leone, Angola and India.
After just two years of activity in Sierra Leone, a UNICEF-led social mobilization team, in collaboration with Christian and Muslim organizations, raised the immunization coverage of children under one year of age to 75 per cent, up from 6 per cent.
In Angola, UNICEF partnered with churches in a campaign to end polio, which was essential during the period of civil war as social mobilizers were needed who were respected from both sides of the conflict.
In India, meanwhile, Muslim leaders are working with UNICEF to counter resistance to polio vaccination in their communities, through informal discussion as well as public talks.
"UNICEF has had a long relationship with faith-based organizations in working to improve the health and well-being of children," Ms. Bellamy said. "We will strengthen this relationship to build a world where all children will have the opportunity to realize their potential."