May. 18, 2020

African faiths take frontline actions to combat COVID-19

Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC, 2016

18 May 2020

*By Fredrick Nzwili

Frontline actions by African faith communities in mitigating against the novel coronavirus are being welcomed as timely, as groups move to support people left vulnerable by the pandemic.

Cases of the virus in the continent are rising, raising fears that the region could be next epicentre of the infectious disease. Although Africa infections arrived late, they had reached 81,000 cases by 17 May. At least 2,700 had died and over 31,000 had recovered by the same date.

“The situation (on the ground) is not good. People need a lot of psychosocial and material support. The role of the faith communities has never been this crucial,” said Dr Francis Kuria Kagema, general secretary of the African Council of Religious Leaders.

UN Environment’s initiative, Faith for Earth, is recording some of the frontline actions of the faith-based organizations. The initiative is running a page that records actions and guidelines the groups are issuing worldwide.

“Faith-based organizations have been providing support to the health workers, reaching out to the poor, providing educational material on how to cope with the pandemic, offering digital religious services, conducting advocacy campaigns to protect their followers, launching projects to support children and the elders, and many other great works,” said Dr Iyad Abumoghli, director of the Faith for Earth initiative.

Officials say faith centres and organizations are offering hope, while delivering humanitarian assistance and spiritual support. Armed with science and their faith, religious groups have provided COVOD-19 guidelines alongside those of governments.

Lockdowns, curfews and quarantines – implemented to stem the virus – have interrupted people’s livelihoods with markets shutting down and food supply chains being disrupted. Most of the faith communities have also shut their places of worship, including churches, mosques, synagogues and gurudwaras.

Religious leaders are also helping dispel misleading messages, some which are being propagated by self-proclaimed prophets, telling the people the epidemic was a punishment from God or is the end of the world.

“These kinds of misleading views are very scary,” said Rev. Fidon Mwombeki, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches.

According to a pastor from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, a committee within the organization was preparing a statement to educate people about misleading theologies and promote a theology of hope, and also guide on reducing stigma for those who are sick.

“There is a lot of stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. Those who have been infected are being stigmatized, but we want the churches to take a lead in welcoming back those who have been healed,” said the leader.

Kagema said the religious leaders were supporting ministries of health in disseminating messages that help people understand the importance of empathy and non-discrimination.

“We are emphasising chaplaincy, pastoral care and counselling,” said Kagema.

In African communities, ‘there is no COVID-19 for a particular religion’