The Interfaith Health Program
Faith Communities and Public Health Leaders in Partnership for Healthier Communities
In the 1980’s, William Foege, the Executive Director of The Carter Center in Atlanta, GA. and the former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led The Center in work to identify the barriers to the health and well being of communities and the societal resources that could be mobilized to meet those barriers head-on. Although religious institutions represent one of the most pervasive and powerful of those resources in virtually every community, public health practitioners had not fully engaged the full potential of collaborative networks with faith communities. In an effort to forge such collaboration, Foege enlisted the assistance of President Carter to establish the Interfaith Health Program (IHP).
Our Work: The Past as a Foundation
From the first days at The Carter Center in 1992 to our present-day home at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, IHP has fostered partnerships between public health and faith communities and mobilized resources for the health of communities in the United States and around the world. Since its inception, beginning with Foege’s vision of “Closing the Gap,” the Interfaith Health Program has worked to build collaborative networks aimed at eliminating health disparities. Key milestone events and initiatives that represent the history and unique capacity of IHP include:
- 1989 The Church’s Challenge in Health national conference convened 300 religious leaders representing diverse traditions with health leaders at The Carter Center. A seminal document to activate a national call to action was issued named “Healthy People 2000: A Role for America’s Religious Communities.”
- Supported by Pew Charitable Trust and in partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, between 1992 and 1996 “Atlanta Interfaith Health” became an important on the ground model for demonstrating mobilization of inner city congregations in a commitment to improve the health of challenged communities.
- Beginning in 1996, with the Templeton Foundation, IHP developed a network of interdisciplinary academic partners in 8 national and international locations (the Faith and Health Consortium) that aligned health sciences schools with their respective seminaries and departments of religious studies to conduct research, interdisciplinary teaching, and community partnerships.
- Collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1997 IHP hosted its first dialogue on “Realigning Religious Health Assets.” Health care conversion foundations with a religious mission and a commitment to improving the health of the public participated in this dialogue and became the foundational network later known as the “Strong Partners.”
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the leadership of Dr. David Satcher with IHP in 1997 held a seminal all day forum at the CDC on “Engaging Faith Communities as Partners in Community Health Improvement.”
- Launched in 2001 with the CDC, the Institute for Public Health and Faith Collaborations has made a substantial contribution to the movement by training 78 teams of faith and health leaders from 24 states to undertake systemic social change strategies in eliminating health disparities.
- Interdisciplinary academic partnerships led to founding of the African Religious Health Assets Programme (ARHAP) in 2002 and expanded the reach of IHP to international contexts to address pressing global health concerns such as HIV/AIDS and the role of religion.
- As one of the first intermediaries in the HHS Compassion Capital Fund, IHP formed a network of religious health foundations from ten states called “Strong Partners” who leveraged local faith and community based organizational capacity to achieve national social and health services priorities.
By 2005 the role and capacity of IHP had developed to become an enduring and valuable partner alongside public health. Through a cooperative agreement with the CDC, the National Center for Public Health and Faith Collaborations was created to serve as a hub for strengthening the partnership among the CDC, Faith-Based Organizations, state and local governments, and other key national and international organizations so that they can align their unique assets to build capacity and advance knowledge to promote and protect the public’s health.