The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), have urged religious leaders in the country lead social change processes in their various communities through religious teaching and practices by creating an open communication and support atmosphere about development issues.
The Director General of NOA, Dr Garba Abari disclosed this at in Abuja at a one-day National Forum with Religious Leaders on faith for Social and Behaviour Change Initiative which was developed by UNICEF.
According to Dr Abari, “I am highly delighted with the actualization of this important forum with religious leaders which was conceived in recognition of the crucial role faith communities have to play in ensuring that our citizens, especially children and women have good health and develop to their full potential.
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“The Faith for Social and Behaviour Change Initiative is the brain child of UNICEF. It is a strategy initiative that priorities the potential of religious leaders to lead social change processes through religious teachings and practices, by creating an open communication and support atmosphere about development initiatives such as exclusive breastfeeding , disease prevention, immunization, hand washing, nutrition, latrine use, personal hygiene, education, child protection and health-seeking behaviours”.
Dr Abari said the UNICEF and NOA starting working together since 2004 when the controversy over the acceptance of polio vaccine became a matter of national interest.
“The high level rejection in the North due to mistrust on the safety of the vaccine drew government’s quick intervention , working through critical stakeholders . As a result , NOA became the Agency for changing the narratives. The paradigm shift happened not long after, as a result of the collaboration with critical stakeholders such as UNICEF, that funded many of the campaigns”, he added.
Furthermore, the NOA DG said: “Remarkably, the partnership between the two organizations blossomed expeditiously into formulation and implementation of diverse programmes and activities.
“These programmes have enormously improved the wellbeing of Nigerians , especially children and women in areas such as Routine Immunization, Education especially for the Girl Child, Nutrition and Chis protection, Material, Newborn and Child health, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), among others”.
“Other strategies as would be discussed here today are expected to create a larger scope and reach towards achieving the goal of increasing demand for services that will positively impact on the health status of the communities.
“Furthermore, considering the relevance of data gathering, monitoring and evaluation in any programme implementation, we wish to state that the community engagement processes will be closely monitored, documented and reported to the NOA offices at the LGA, State and National Headquarters, to ensure that set objectives are achieved. This should form a critical part of our discourse today.
“The goal of this National Forum therefore, is to stimulate a national discourse by religious leaders on the Faith for Social and Behaviour Change Initiative and to enlist the commitment of all our spiritual leaders to promote child survival and development issues through your teachings and practices, using the Faith for Life Manuals . In the course of this Forum, we would be depending on your capabilities to develop a one-year Plan of Action for taking the initiative forward in your various Zones /States/LGAs”.
He said the Agency was committed to expanding and sustaining its scope of community engagement for citizens especially children and women, which is specific around upscaling desirable Knowledge, Attitude and Practice ( KAP) in the communities, through interface with critical stakeholders using community based platforms.
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