CHURCHES are often the best placed to reach hard-to-reach communities in many parts of the world, say the founders of the new Anglican Health and Community Network (AHCN), launched this week on World Health Day.
It will support Anglicans working around the world in health care, clinical settings, and the community, and will seek to capitalise on the part that many Anglicans play as trusted members of their communities, able to engage with local health issues and advocate for equitable health care.
The new network would combine “trust in science and hope in God”, the deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Revd Dr Will Adam, said. “The attention of the whole world has been primarily focused on health and health care, as countries across the globe respond to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said at the launch.
“During that time, the value and appreciation we place on health-care workers has also increased, as we rightly recognise the incredible hard work done — particularly by those on the front line in critical care — to support patients with coronavirus and other illnesses.”
Provinces, dioceses, organisations, and networks in the Communion manage health facilities and undertake health care in local communities through health projects, networks such as the Mothers’ Union, local congregations, and volunteers. Churches are also recognised as facilitating greater access to health care provided by the State.
The AHCN is intended to be a co-ordinated Anglican voice on key health issues. It intends to provide technical expertise from a broad body of health professionals and church leaders; build trust and hope in health messages in local communities; provide technical support for isolated Anglican health partners; and bring together practitioners, church leaders, and academics from the Communion to inform practice and advocacy.
All this has the aim of bringing a greater legitimacy to the work and voice of the Communion. The Bishop of Hertford, Dr Michael Beasley, is one of the three conveners. A former epidemiologist at Imperial College, London, he has extensive international experience in issues of health, nutrition, and child development.
“Anglicans around the world contribute extensively to the health and well-being of the places where they live, work, and worship,” he said.
“As someone with a background in public health, I’ve been enormously encouraged to see the work that local church members and churches are doing in different places to contribute to this work — from supporting mental health in my own area of Hertfordshire, to responding to the outbreak of Ebola that took place in DRC, to supporting efforts to eliminate malaria in Angola and elsewhere in South Africa.”
Dr Janice Tsang, a co-convener, is a specialist in medical oncology and Honorary Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong. The third convener is the Bishop of Namibia, the Rt Revd Luke Pato, a champion of national and regional initiatives for malaria elimination.
“There is an African proverb which says, ‘If you want to fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk with others,’” the Bishop said. “One of the many lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is that we need one another at local and international level to support each other and to exchange experiences. We need one another to exchange data: theological, pastoral, and spiritual.”
The network has been in the planning process since its endorsement in 2019 by the triennial meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong.