Photo credit: Ivars Kupcis / World Council of Churches

FAITH COMMUNITIES, governments, international organisations, foundations, the private sector, and civil society organisations are essential in every response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation, told an civic and interfaith gathering earlier this week.

Tedros was speaking at a 30 August 2021 ‘Dialogue on Covid-19 and Consequences for Global Multilateral Cooperation’ hosted in Geneva by The Foundation Dialogue for Peace and moderated by Norway’s former prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Along with the World Council of Churches (WCC), representatives from the Muslim World League, the World Health Organisation and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies shared experiences with ministers, ambassadors, politicians, peace associations and others.

“We all have a role to play – governments, international organisations, foundations, the private sector, civil society organisations, and faith-based organisations … Engaging and empowering communities is essential in every area, but especially in outbreak response”, said Tedros.

He added that the global pandemic has shown how inadequate community engagement can lead to fear, mistrust, and weaker political and social relations.

He said, “Faith communities have played a particularly important role for many people in the funding, trust, the sources of support, comfort, guidance, and information with the support of the Covid-19 solidarity response fund.”

Keep communities healthy

“Ultimately, the best way is to keep communities healthy and safe, engaged, informed and empowered by leaders and institutions they trust to protect themselves, and faith-based organisations are the most trusted,” said Tedros.

WHO is seeking support for local vaccination targets, getting at least 10 per cent of the population of every country jabbed by the end of September and at least 40 per cent by the end of the year. The goal is also for the vaccination of 70 per cent of the world’s population by the middle of next year.

In addition, the WHO is prospecting support for developing and adopting an international treaty or other legal instruments for preparedness and response to future pandemics.

Aamir Javed Sheikh, head of the Norway-based Foundation Dialogue for Peace, said that, given the pandemic and the desperate situation in Afghanistan, such a meeting “in Geneva, the capital of peace”, is needed so “we can become their hope.”

He cited the tragedy of women and children in Afghanistan facing decades of setback due to the takeover of the Taliban.

Another keynote speaker was Dr Muhammad Bin Abulkarim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, who urged cooperation between different religions and communities.

‘Shared fate’

In his keynote speech, WCC acting General Secretary the Rev Professor Dr Ioan Sauca, reflected on “our shared vulnerability and shared fate – as one humanity” in dealing with the pandemic.

“It is the pandemic that brings us together today, even as the virus and its variants run rampant and the enormous task of vaccinating, protecting and aiding the population continues to tax our health and economic systems,” he said.

“This is the moment for all of us — in the UN, non-governmental organisations, civil society and religious organisations such as the WCC — to step up and give our all to defeating the virus and ensuring the safety and health of people everywhere. We pledge ourselves in solidarity to this campaign for life for all!”

Sauca explained, “As a Christian fellowship, it is our duty and moral obligation to publicly challenge rumours and myths and confront them with facts. While moral and ethical concerns also loom over vaccine access and distribution practices, we must take up responsibility and advocate for what is right from a medical, ethical and human rights perspective.”

He noted that earlier, the WCC joined with the World Jewish Congress in a joint statement inviting religious leaders of all traditions and locations to reflect on and engage the myriad of ethical issues related to global vaccine distribution.

Further, citing a decision earlier this year by the WCC executive committee, he said, “We urge greater support for and contributions to the WHO Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) … and to the COVAX facility for more equitable distribution of available vaccine supplies.”

In another powerful address, Jagan Chapagain, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, “Today we have so many competing crises – climate change, Covid-19, massive social-economic inequality, disasters, conflict, marginalisation, and discrimination.

“This Covid-19 shows the strength of the communities; they could mobilise themselves to address their needs, of course with global solidarity.”

* Watch the video of the conference livestream on YouTube.

* Source: World Council of Churches