Minister of Health, Dr. David Estwick

Faith-based organisations met recently with personnel from the Ministry of Health at the Sherbourne Conference Centre to discuss approaches to healthy lifestyles for their congregations.

In addressing the participants, Minister of Health, Dr. David Estwick, noted that the relationship between faith-based organisations and health had extended “well beyond prescriptions for righteous and healthy living.”

He said: “It is established that in many countries faith-based organisations are the main entities responsible for the direct delivery of health care. Documented evidence shows that the most numerous and best equipped hospitals, clinics and pharmacies worldwide, are in fact owned and managed by faith-based organisations.

“In Barbados, the St. Joseph Hospital which was at one time owned and managed by the Roman Catholic church nicely exemplifies this concept.”

Minister Estwick commended the organisations for their contribution, noting that together with Government they had executed much of the advocacy and ground work that was needed in order to usher in improvements in social conditions.

He said: “As we know this was a catalyst that transformed our public health standing on the global scale, to our present-day situation, which is widely accepted as comparing favorably, to much of the developed world.”

The Minister further acknowledged that already a number of faith-based organisations had developed their own responses to Chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs), including different levels of screening programmes, which are designed to support early detection and self-management of some of these conditions.

He also alluded to their involvement in health fairs and spreading the prevention and control message via their pulpits as well as the fact that “they have equipped their facilities to provide community gyms, or have consented for the use of their grounds and car parks as basketball and road tennis courts.”

The consultation was regarded by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, “to be of the utmost importance since the responsibility of churches and other places of worship not only extended to the spiritual need of their clients and parishioners, but to their social, physical and mental well-being.”

She said: “Healthy lifestyle programmes would complement the work of the faith-based organisation as we seek to make positive changes to persons’ daily routine.”

The Ministry’s goal was to engage the assistance of churches and other religious groups in the fight against CNCDs, by encouraging them to develop sound health and wellness education programmes for their members.

As a result of the consultation, it is expected that wellness committees would be established with the focus on screening and early diagnosis of and fostering inter-congregational dialogue regarding healthy lifestyle programmes.

Several of the faith-based organisations committed themselves to working together and exchanging ideas on their various programmes.

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