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Adventist Church plans expanded partnership with World Health Organization

Adventist Church plans expanded partnership with World Health Organization

Seventh-day Adventist Church officials voted yesterday to accept a proposal from the World Health Organization (WHO) that seeks the denomination's partnership with the United Nations' agency in a program to reduce maternal and infant mortality. The approv

April 13, 2010 | Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN

Church Health Ministries Director Allan Handysides outlines a World Health Organization (WHO) proposal soliciting the Adventist Church's efforts to reduce infant and maternal mortality worldwide. The partnership, approved April 6 by church leadership, broadens the scope of the church's collaboration with the WHO. [photo: Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]

Seventh-day Adventist Church officials voted yesterday to accept a proposal from the World Health Organization (WHO) that seeks the denomination's partnership with the United Nations' agency in a program to reduce maternal and infant mortality.

The approval paves the way for expanding the church's fledgling alliance with the WHO in helping to implement public health initiatives.

Church administrative and health leaders first explored a collaboration with the WHO last summer during a health conference in Geneva. In October, they released a statement positioning the denomination to better improve global health through partnerships with allied health organizations, such as the WHO.

The WHO proposal discussed yesterday during Spring Meeting at world church headquarters requests that selected Adventist-run schools of nursing that teach midwifery or obstetrics serve as "laboratories of change." There, the WHO, Health Ministries and church-run Loma Linda School of Nursing in Loma Linda, California, will concentrate resources to graduate Highly Skilled Birth Attendants, said Allan Handysides, director of the world church's department of Health Ministries.

An increase in birth attendants is expected to curb the number of maternal deaths per births in many African and Asian countries, which stands at 600 per 100,000, compared to 16 per 100,000 in Western countries, Handysides said. The ratio represents an estimated 3 million preventable maternal deaths per year, he said.

"I want to stress to you that through this partnership, the image and reputation of the Adventist church may be held up to the scrutiny of the WHO," Handysides told the delegates. He urged them not only to approve the proposal, but also to commit to "100 percent participation" and "keen oversight" by all levels of church administration in implementing the project, particularly in church regions where the effort is concentrated.

Patricia Jones, associate Health Ministries director for Nursing, reiterated Handysides' call for full involvement. Jones, also a professor of Nursing at the Loma Linda School of Nursing, said if problems in implementation arise, the goal of the partnership -- fewer infant and maternal deaths -- would suffer most.

Delegates seemed largely in favor of the partnership, one calling it a "vote of confidence" in the work of the church's Health Ministries department. However, they asked that potential downsides to the partnership be fully analyzed before the church moves forward.

"I am reluctant to enter this partnership -- even though the benefits may be tremendous -- without a thorough plan to avoid any risks that may arise," said Paul Ratsara, president of the church's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region.
While potential risks cannot be eliminated, "thorough work has and will yet be done" to "minimize" them, said Peter Landless, associate Health Ministries director. Landless called for a "careful, measured pace" as the church proceeds with the partnership, which, he added "may serve as a very needed injection of new life into some of our health institutions."

The partnership is expected to upgrade the quality of instruction and increase the number of instructors at the selected nursing schools. Also anticipated is a spike in enrollment, due to students contracted by the government to return to their rural communities, where infant and maternal mortality is the highest, Handysides said.

Developing an extensive network of such "laboratories of change" is expected to cost an estimated $5 million, he said.

"We were at first apprehensive about this because the cost of such a project would certainly be beyond our capabilities," Handysides said. However, the WHO has since said they are "very willing" to secure funding for the initiative, he added.

The Adventist Church "should embrace this opportunity to have a public expression of our healing and serving values as a global organization," said Lowell Cooper, a world church vice president and Loma Linda University's board chair.

Cooper is also a member of the church's administrative committee, which delegates agreed will guide the partnership's progress during its five-year duration.

While "ambitious," the partnership is admittedly short-term and thus an "experiment," Handysides said, adding that ideally it will give the WHO a positive impression of what a relationship with a denomination can achieve.

"This may be a possible model for future partnerships," Adventist world church president Jan Paulsen said following the vote.

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