the continuing challenges of Covid-19 and the essential function of the church

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(Photo: Unsplash / Daniel Schludi)

Dr. David Boan has just been appointed Permanent Representative of the World Evangelical Alliance to the World Health Organization (WHO).

He comes into the role at a critical time as the world is trying to break free from the shackles of Covid-19.

He speaks to Christian Today about the Covid-19 vaccine, the threats of variant and future pandemics, and the role the Church must play in helping the world fight the virus.

CT: You have just become the Permanent Representative of WEA to the World Health Organization. If the work include the development of the beliefs of the wind turbine?

Dr. Boan: It definitely promotes the belief that our spiritual life is an essential aspect of general health and that the church plays an essential role in the health of individuals and communities. At the most basic level, the issue of health and healthcare in the WEA is not as well developed as it is in other areas and therefore this appointment means increased attention and the beginning of further development, not only related to the role of the WEA in the WEA on health, especially the role of the Church.

We seek, therefore, to develop resources, education, and support for evangelical covenants that expand how the church sees her role in health both in her own sphere and in the community as a whole.

My appointment to WHO is really a first step in this expanding strategy. The connection to the WHO's really a one-way street. On the one hand, it is a matter of campaigning for the WHO on the part of the evangelical community and making the WHO aware of the needs, concerns and perspectives of the evangelical community. But it also flows the other way because where important and valuable resources come from WHO, we can help explain more about them and the work of WHO.

CT: The pandemic just have to take a lot of emphasis?

Dr. Boan: The pandemic is at the center, so much so that it takes away other needs. WHO is part of the global Covax program, which is working to increase the supply of vaccines to the majority of the world. There is only so much capacity for vaccinations and the focus on Covid is to draw resources from other needs like vaccinating children. The pandemic is one of the things we're working on right now and I'm in the process of organizing materials for the WEA Covid website on Vaccine Justice and Justice and related programs like the Love My Neighbor in Canada campaigning for you One gets, one gives & # 39 ;.

We are very focused on countries like the United States, which have a huge range of vaccines and high vaccination rates. We tell them, you have an abundance of resources and there is an inequality in the world, so let's look at this injustice and if you take advantage of this vast offering, you should be helping those who do not have that access.

CT: Do you think that this message is open?

Dr. Boan: In Canada, for example, thanks to the work of my colleagues Christine MacMillan and Sara Hildebrand, they have received an enormous response to this program not only in the religious community, but also in interreligious areas as well as from non-religious groups and private companies. The message has been very well received in a number of people.

CT: Do you think the pandemic could lead to a tipping point in how inequality in the world is addressed?

Dr. Boan: It's an encouraging move, but it would be very optimistic to say that, by and large, we are finally facing inequality in the developed world and the majority world. Simultaneously with this encouraging trend, we've seen things like the backlash against the Asians stigmatized by the pandemic and the rise in xenophobia that came with it. I think it's a very mixed picture right now, but the response to the Covax program and asking people to remember that everyone needs to be vaccinated has been good. We really need all that have to be vaccinated!

Dr. David Boan believes everyone should be vaccinated.(Photo: WEA)

CT: Some people who don't want to take the vaccine are "anti-Vaxxers", others are people who are really worried or afraid to take the vaccine. What would you say to people who don't trust the vaccine?

Dr. Boan: That's a big problem, and when you look at it globally, it's a relatively diverse problem. There is a history of exploitation, including medical exploitation, in some parts of the world that creates suspicion. And I think we need to understand this context because putting pressure on the people to be vaccinated could easily backfire.

Then you have other people creating misinformation and turning some of these things into conspiracies. In the extreme, they could claim that things like microchips are in the vaccine. Or it gets theologically skewed when people say the vaccine is the mark of the beast! We have to turn people away from these theological statements that don't make sense.

So the topics are very different.

CT: In addition to being suspicious of the vaccine, there seems to be some suspicion of the WHO itself.

Dr. Boan: There will always be people who don't trust big global organizations and those organizations get it wrong from time to time so I wouldn't criticize people for being careful with the vaccine or the WHO. And to see what happens when the vaccine is introduced makes sense because it is new. The mRNA strategy with the vaccine is also new. So you could say that a cautious person is simply acting sensibly, but also taking a risk by delaying the vaccine's protection for himself and the community. We all have to decide how we balance those risks.

On the other hand, if caution is exercised for too long, there is both a community risk from the low number of people vaccinated and a personal risk. For example, the vaccine may have side effects, but the fact is that even if you do contract the virus after vaccination, the chances of dying are extremely slim. So you are running a greater personal risk by not being vaccinated.

CT: The concern here in the UK is about the variants that may undermine the vaccine. Are you worried about the variants too?

Dr. Boan: Yes, very much, and I think that is an important point that people need to understand because we are really in a race and this race is to get a huge number of people vaccinated which then slows down the virus rate because so when the virus spreads, it mutates. The more of these mutations there are, the greater the likelihood that vaccines will be less effective, and therefore we have to deal with the creation of different vaccines. The longer the pandemic lasts, the greater the risk of serious mutations and the pandemic becomes a long-term challenge.

CT: Pharmaceutical companies weren't always valued, but when the pandemic broke out, AstraZeneca, for example, promised Covax 170 million doses and pledged not to make a profit. Would it be too optimistic to hope that the pandemic has opened the door to a more equitable distribution of medicines between richer and poorer countries?

Dr. Boan: I can't speak to the global perspective, but I think it's right to say that US drug companies are not valued highly. They are extraordinarily successful and profitable, but especially at a time when there are people who are not getting the care they need, it is difficult to see a sector making high profits.

Even so, I think the drug companies' development of the vaccine was remarkable – and the science behind it. This is not only a credit to the pharmaceutical companies. The government also funds much of this research, and so it is very much the government support for this research and the opportunity for the drug companies to really get into the development that makes this success possible.

The test is whether some of these drug companies will relax licensing laws to allow other companies in the majority world to manufacture the vaccine at a low cost. That will be the real test because it would indicate willingness to give in a certain amount of profit.

But that will also be important in the long term, because it's not just about making more vaccines and making supplies available, it's also about price. If the Covax program buys vaccines, the higher the price, the less they can buy. So it goes directly to the issue of adequate supply. The companies that license the vaccines have a choice between profit and fair distribution. This is a point where the church can stand up for the justice of the vaccine.

CT: When we think about the future, the mental health impact is another big problem. How can churches help their communities with the long-term mental health effects of this pandemic?

Dr. Boan: When we talk about psychological effects I would also include neurological effects as these are interrelated and may not be well recognized. Certainly there are general mental and emotional effects of isolation. There were concerns about suicide rates, but being isolated doesn't make people suicidal in and of themselves. Not being stressed either. Stress and isolation, however, aggravate existing conditions. This pandemic has been an added burden, especially for people who are more prone to mental health problems. And so we're going to see an increase in the mental health effects. What we can do is increase our support and monitoring of those at risk. Here, too, there is an opportunity for the local church to educate people about the risks and to work to support people with mental health needs.

We also need to know that the neurological effects of covid infection tend to unfold over time. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic had a significant neurological impact on people who contracted the flu, and it tended to unfold over several months and even years. In people who developed moderate to severe systems, this accelerated the dementia process, as well as other specific neurological symptoms.

As you may know, people with Covid-19 have a tendency to lose taste and smell and that is a neurological impact. There is also an increased risk of stroke. So we will continue to see the neurological effects of this pandemic for some time, even after it is over. There will be consequences not only for the individual but also for the health system, with an increased burden especially for the elderly.

Older people are at increased risk of contracting the virus, developing severe symptoms, and suffering from neurological effects. So it is a triple threat to the elderly and we will look at it for some time. This in turn will impact on families and family caregivers.

CT: Will Long Covid into play in all this?

Dr. Boan: Yes, there are things we still learn about this virus and unfortunately there are people who have been experiencing this for a long time.

CT: The next pandemic has already been discussed and just last week, for example, the UK government launched its International Pandemic Preparedness Partnership. How real do you think this threat is and how ready do you think we need to be?

Dr. Boan: The threat is very real as the population grows and when there are more interactions between animals that could develop different viruses which then mutate and be transmitted to humans. So yeah, it's a very big risk.

Basically, it is human behavior and our contact with one another that spread viruses. The world is a very mobile place, and as we saw in this pandemic, viruses can easily move quickly around the world.

So we haven't seen the last one by any means, and so the suspicion of public health is really worrying because public health strategies got it right: we needed boundaries for travel; we had to wear face masks; We had to be aware of our own behavior and how that translates it. If people don't trust this very basic, well-established science, the flu has an ever greater chance of spreading.

CT: Is there a role the church can play in this?

Dr. Boan: I think the church plays an important role as a trustworthy source. You can make people aware of the risks and are connected to vulnerable populations and people in need. So they play a role in monitoring those needs, supporting the people who experience them, advocating for them in relation to services, etc., and speaking out against the stigma that people with mental health problems have.

There are, of course, spiritual aspects of mental health that we see in all questions people have, such as: Why did I get sick? Why is this happening? Where is god in it? I will be punished

What is worrying is that the lockdown cut people off from their faith communities at the very moment when they were most in need of that spiritual assistance. We know that the ability to connect with their religious community can play a very important role when people are struggling mentally, or with their mental or physical health, to overcome those struggles. Yet, at precisely the time when we needed to bond with our fellow Christians, the pandemic made it the most difficult to do so.

So the church really needs to do everything it can to keep in touch with people, maintain a sense of community, and build that emotional support. For example, my own church here in Idaho started Mental Health on Mondays, which brings people together in online groups to talk about how they are doing. We have also initiated a system of proactive people check-in, with special attention to the most vulnerable and to ensure that people are not forgotten. The focus is on peer support and providing a space where we can share our struggles and talk to our Christian peers about how things are going.

But whatever the church is doing, we definitely need to get ready and learn some lessons from this pandemic because the next one is about to happen.

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