The Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Providing Healthcare
by Dante Schulz
March 16, 2020

84% of the global population adheres to some religious faith, accounting for 5.8 billion people worldwide (as of 2010). Yet, there continues to be a lack of research focused on how spirituality affects communal health care and economic well-being. Religious and faith-based organizations (FBOs) have an incredible capacity to act as catalysts for health care and, in turn, economic growth at the local level.

FBOs offer a vast array of services that governmental bodies often do not provide. Since these organizations can often be found within the communities themselves and are usually composed of members of the communities they serve, their proximity and intimate knowledge of the community allow them to localize healthcare solutions in ways that regional or international bodies cannot. Additionally, FBOs tend to be more trusted than government actors due to their visibility, familiarity, and history in the community. They are therefore able to work with the communities themselves in order to solicit local input and offer trusted health care solutions.  

For example, FBOs have made tremendous progress with local communities in Sub-Saharan Africa regarding HIV/AIDS. In Kampala, Uganda, the population of pregnant women living with HIV decreased from 31% to 6.2% from 1990 to 2003. The open dialogues facilitated by FBOs precipitated a widening of resources offered to those living with HIV/AIDS and an increased awareness that those with the condition exist within the community. This led to a drastic decrease in pregnant women with HIV/AIDS. FBOs offer essential services beyond just HIV/AIDS resources, providing 40-50% of all available health care services in developing countries. 

 Improved health conditions in these communities generate stimulatory effects on local economies through increased productivity and less time lost to illness. Improved health conditions ultimately indicates that the pool of able-bodied people that will enter the workforce and contribute to the economy will increase. Furthermore, less government spending will be required to care for the ill and their families. A recent study concluded that an additional year of life contributes to a 4% rise in GDP. Overall, slight improvements in healthcare precipitates economic growth as societies can prioritize instituting longer-lasting projects instead of providing immediate aid to the sick. FBOs play a critical role in supporting the health initiatives that lead to this economic stimulation.

The majority of the global population continues to affiliate with a religious belief. While many may no longer be spiritual, their membership in an FBO is an important factor in their communal life.  FBOs are responsible for a great amount of international development and their influence lends itself to the health and economic well being of populations served. Therefore, the considerable effects that their projects leave on communities should be acknowledged and studied in order to better understand how lasting partnerships and lasting impact can be achieved in development.

The views, thoughts, and opinions in this blog belong solely to the author and are not representative of an official position or endorsement by the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD).