- Pray and Fast for the Climate - 1 February
- World Cancer Day - 4 February
- Education Sunday
- Short Notes: Election Updates
"Love builds up." With these words in this week's Revised Common Lectionary readings, Paul challenges the Corinthians not to act on the knowledge they prize if doing so would be unloving in its effects on others. Where in our lives can the love that God has placed in our hearts help us to build up others? Where do we need to be built up by their love?
Pray and Fast for the Climate - 1 February
The Pray and Fast for the Climate movement encourages Christians in the UK and around the world to pray and fast on the 1st of each month for action on climate change. With the 1st of both February and March falling on Sunday, churches have two ideal opportunities to incorporate their concern for the climate into services.
If you wish to include Pray and Fast in your Sunday service or private prayers this week,
The Pray and Fast for the Climate website includes prayer points for February; a powerpoint for use in church services; and a story about how one Kensington-area congregation is celebrating Pray and Fast by not only praying but also reducing its carbon footprint ... all in solidarity with link churches affected by flooding in Mozambique.
Ruth Valerio has also written a fine blogpost about Pray and Fast, explaining why it matters and encouraging people to join "in this community of people, determined to do something that makes no sense to anyone else; determined to pray as if God exists; determined to declare that climate justice is something we should all be concerned about; determined to do what we can to work for a greener, just and sustainable world."
Finally, Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa's first woman bishop, has written a prayer being used this Sunday by those engaged with Pray and Fast:
Blessed be the works of your hands,
Your Spirit inspires trees and birds and waves into song and dance,
It is that same holy wind that you breathed on your disciples and on all creation,
Let your Spirit blow us to creative love and stewardship that shows reverence for your creation.
Blessed be the works of your hands O Holy One, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God now and for ever. Amen
World Cancer Day - 4 February
When we think about the health issues that impact developing nations, infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are likely to spring to mind. But what of diseases like cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease – the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with which we are, perhaps, more familiar in the UK? What impact do NCDs have in lower- income countries and what measures are being taken to address them?
NCDs are currently the leading cause of death in all regions of the world, except sub-Saharan Africa, and account for a growing share of deaths in all regions, especially developing regions. They were responsible for 38 million deaths in 2012 (68% of all deaths) and of these over 40% (16 million) were classified as premature, i.e. occurring in people under 70 years old. Nearly three-quarters of all deaths caused by NCDs, and over four-fifths of the premature deaths, were in low- and middle-income countries; 29% of NCD deaths in low- and middle-income countries were of people under 60. The WHO's Global Status Report on NCDs concluded, given the burden such countries faced, that ‘NCDs act as key barriers to poverty reduction and sustainable development.’
Despite these facts, non-communicable diseases receive only a tiny fraction of global development health assistance (less than 3%). Combined with a general lack of funding of health systems in low- and middle-income countries and absence of universal health coverage, this results in such diseases having significant financial costs for individuals and families. The high costs of medicines are a burden, sometimes preventing people from seeking treatment, and the loss of income associated with illness affects whole households.
Cancers are second amongst the leading causes of NCD deaths (after cardiovascular disease). February 4th is World Cancer Day, an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), which brings together many of the major players in the fight against cancer. One of the purposes of the day is to call on governments to fulfil the ambitions of the WHO's Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, which has cancer-specific targets, indicators, and actions that are aligned with the World Cancer Declaration. According to the UICC, ‘Disparities between people from different settings are growing, particularly in the access to prevention, treatment and palliative care. Now, more than ever there is a need for a global commitment to help drive advancements in policy…. We have a collective responsibility to support low- and middle-income countries who are tackling a cancer epidemic with insufficient resources.’
What do these disparities mean? In developed countries, survival rates for many cancers are high. But what might it mean to face cancer in a country with limited health provision – and when you yourself do not have the knowledge, confidence or resources to seek treatment? The story of Mary Namata, a 48 year old woman from Uganda living with advanced breast cancer, reflects that of many who struggle to access extremely limited cancer diagnostic and treatment facilities, whilst also facing the stigma, misunderstanding and personal cost of cancer. Mary had first noticed a lump four years ago but was dissuaded from surgery by friends and family giving her incorrect information about cancer; like many other people with cancer she took herbal treatments instead. When the lump grew so large it was unbearably painful, she sought medical treatment – which she finally received – but encountered massively overstretched cancer facilities, inconsistent advice from doctors and the cancer institute running out of chemotherapy drugs along the way.
World Health Organization data reveal how widespread Mary’s story is likely to be and support the UICC’s statement about the impact of cancer on low- and middle-income countries: more than two thirds of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, yet a WHO 2014 country capacity assessment survey found that "there was a significant lack of funding available for NCD activities in low-income countries (18% reported no funding)." Moreover the fact that international funding streams, targeted at infectious disease, offer little money for non-communicable diseases, also "deters developing countries from adapting their health and broader governmental systems… to a new set of health risks." A series of papers in The Lancet focused on the severity of the challenges facing Africa with regard to cancer and highlighted the late presentation of many patients, the lack of healthcare infrastructure and the scarcity of radiotherapy, analgesia and palliative care.
Despite the challenges, the World Cancer Day material is hopeful about what can be achieved. "World Cancer Day 2015 will take a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer," it notes, "highlighting that solutions do exist across the continuum of cancer care, and that they are within our reach. … There is much that can be done at an individual, community and governmental level, to harness and mobilise these solutions and catalyse positive change."
- For all who are living with cancer and all cancer survivors.
- For those who find access to treatment difficult, or who are uncertain whether to seek medical help. Pray that they may receive the guidance and medical help that they need.
- For all households struggling financially because of the impacts of illness
- For those who work to find new treatments and to make existing treatments accessible and affordable.
- For the many events that will raise awareness and money to combat cancer for World Cancer Day, including a bionic fashion day in Ecuador and a cancer marathon in Nigeria.
- For organisations working to combat cancer in low and middle-income countries such as AORTIC and Afrox.
- For further awareness of the impacts of NCDs on low and middle-income countries and integration of these insights into the Sustainable Development Goals.
Might you take a look at the resources for World Cancer Day (and in particular the Treatment For All fact sheet) – and share them as appropriate with family, friends and colleagues?
MSF has a very strong access to essential medicines campaign - worth taking part!
"Each child, each person is unique, made in God’s image, and central to our life’s work is the discovery of who we are and what we are called to be – discerning not simply our vocation, but the vocation of humanity." CTBI Education Sunday resource
This Education Sunday is an opportunity to reflect on how we might help to unlock the potential of every person, particularly through education. For many children gaining access to education is still a challenge. The Millennium Development Goals have seen some positive progress, with an increase from 82% of children enrolled in primary schooling in 1999 to 90% of children in 2010. But since then progress has stalled. As of 2012, 10% of children were still not enrolled in primary-level education. Girls in particular are less likely to access and continue in their schooling. In Pakistan literacy rates are only 60%, and there is a significant gender disparity - only 40 girls are able to read for every 65 boys.
A major and increasing challenge in providing education to all children is violent conflict. This week UNICEF reported that 230 million children (1 in 10) are living in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts. One place where this is a significant issue is the Middle East. Recognising the serious long-term consequences of allowing an entire generation of Syrian children to grow up without unlocking their potential, the No Lost Generation campaign was set up by the UN and partners in 2013. It has contributed to significant increases in children receiving education in locations both inside Syria and amongst refugee communities. Other projects such as those run by the International Orthodox Christian Charities and Syrian diaspora organisation Jusoor are also working to set up schools, refurbish school buildings and pay for teachers and resources. But despite these continuing efforts, the majority of Syrian children are still not receiving an education: as of 2013, surveys suggested that 80% of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon and 56% in Jordan were not receiving formal schooling.
- That every person will be enabled to fulfil their God-given potential.
- For progress in offering every child basic schooling.
- That governments, agencies, businesses, churches and other civil society groups will work together to remove barriers to education for women and girls.
- That children affected by violent conflict will be able to receive education and the hope of a better future.
Short Notes: Election Updates
- Please pray for the new president of Zambia, Edgar Lungu. Mr Lungu was elected with a small margin following a process that was widely regarded as free and fair (Transparency International Zambia quotes, US Dept of State), if marked by accusations that some voters were disenfranchised and by a low turnout. Pray that Mr Lungu will govern wisely and well, that all parties will work together for the common good, and that any sporadic incidents of post-election violence will cease.
- Please also pray for the new government of Greece, led by Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party. It has announced a halt to some infrastructure privatisations and said that it will neither seek an extension to the country's bailout nor work with the "Troika" that has governed the controversial and deeply unpopular terms of the austerity-focused programme. Pray for wisdom and discernment both for the government and for the nations and international bodies with which it is interacting. (Coverage: Athens-Macedonia News Agency, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Ekathimerini, FT, Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais)
- Please continue to pray for Nigeria in the run-up to its elections on 14 February.