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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2009 Archives > July/August 2009 > Global Health Initiative forges partnerships to 'blanket Africa'

The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the Global Health Initiative for United Methodist Communications, listens as United Methodist Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo of the North Katanga Area discusses ways to obtain funds for improving church health systems. Photo by Isaac Broune
Global Health Initiative forges partnerships to 'blanket Africa'

The United Methodist Church has long recognized the power of working partnerships  to fight diseases of poverty.

Once stamping out diseases that disproportionately kill poor people was named as a focus for the church's work, the Global Health Initiative was launched with partnerships as a vital component.

Stamping out malaria is among the initiative's primary goals. The partnerships will continue beyond the focus on malaria, to leverage funding and increase the impact of United Methodist efforts against tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases of poverty.

From 'Nets' to 'No Malaria,' partnerships grow

The partnerships inside and outside the church began developing when the United Nations Foundation recognized The people of The United Methodist Church as a powerful partner in the Nothing But Nets campaign. Since 2006, United Methodists have given more than $27 million and sent more than 2 million nets to Africa. Millions of United Methodists now know about malaria and its devastating effects as a disease of poverty. They have developed hospitals and clinics where malaria is treated, created networks of partners working to eliminate malaria and raised malaria awareness both in the United States and in countries throughout Africa.

The relationship with the United Nations Foundation continues. In 2007 and 2008, it opened the door to invitations to The United Methodist Church from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria  to be the first faith-based institution to join them in the fight to eliminate deaths from malaria by 2015, to Imagine No Malaria.

The Rev. Larry Hollon, general secretary of United Methodist Communications, says a $1 million gift for bed nets raised by the Texas Conference was another key to helping other aid groups see the church's potential as a partner in the battle against diseases of poverty. The realization culminated in a $34 million plan by the Global Fund for a wide-ranging attack on these killer diseases.

"I would not presume the only catalyst was the participation of United Methodists, but I do contend their participation was important," Hollon said. "It signaled the church, which is present in many places that others are not, was concerned and would walk the walk with officials and local people."

"People in those villages trust faith-based institutions because they are the ones who make the deliveries of medical supplies, food and mosquito nets possible," a staff member from the Global Fund told Bishop Thomas Bickerton, chairperson of the Global Health Initiative for the Council of Bishops and spokesperson for Nothing But Nets. "You can't always depend on the government or on secular agencies, but the people of Africa can depend on the church."

The newest partner is the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which invited United Methodists to become part of the effort to blanket Sierra Leone with bed nets in 2009 as part of the comprehensive fight against malaria there.

The Rev. Sam Dixon, head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief
Partnerships within the church

As they partner with global health leaders outside the church, United Methodist general agencies are collaborating to make their individual efforts more effective. United Methodist Communications and the General Boards of Global Ministries, Church and Society, and Higher Education and Ministry are working together to ensure the success of delivery, education, fund raising and advocacy through United Methodist health-focused ministries and projects in Africa.

Their specific assignments include:

- General Board of Church and Society: Advocating for more education about diseases of poverty plaguing Africa, and prompting lawmakers to craft policy addressing them.

- General Board of Global Ministries: Continued delivery of health care-focused services to Africa through missionary work and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

- General Board of Higher Education and Ministry: Promoting higher education in Africa to help citizens acquire skills to lift themselves out of poverty and raising funds in the U.S. to aid the effort.

- United Methodist Communications: Leading effort to raise $75 million between 2009 and the end of 2012 to fund the work of the Global Health Initiative.

--Adapted from Global Health Initiative reports by Joey Butler, managing editor, Interpreter. Sarah Schiavetti, Global Health Initiative consultant, provided information for this report.

From Nothing But Nets to Imagine No Malaria

United Methodists' support of Nothing But Nets has been phenomenal, as it allows anyone who can be part of a $10 gift to "Send a net, Save a life."

But, prevention alone will not eliminate malaria. Overcoming malaria will require educating patients and health care workers, developing health care infrastructure and making advancements in health care communications -- along with continuing net distribution.

Imagine No Malaria will incorporate Nothing But Nets but move beyond prevention to support efforts to:

- Eliminate the disease, community by community, by providing long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets, medication, rapid diagnostic kits, improved laboratory equipment and services, community- and school-based anti-malaria education and training for birth attendants in malaria prevention and treatment.

- Expand networks of community health care workers to serve the most remote towns and villages.

- Invest in hospitals and personnel to build the institution's community health capacity to care for those in need.

- Develop a communications network in Africa incorporating community radio, leadership training through the United Methodist university system and coordinated advocacy to ensure people in need can learn essential public health information and how to access health care.

- Support education, prevention, care and treatment programs for people living with HIV/AIDS through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.

- Invest in a partnership with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to help sustain United Methodist projects and programs throughout Africa, allowing for future access to billions of dollars in international funding for the developing world.

"The campaign to fight malaria may start with a net, but it does not end there," said the Rev. Sam Dixon, head of UMCOR. "The problem of malaria is compounded by malnutrition, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, water and sanitation, and other health concerns. UMCOR is working with the African Central Conferences to strengthen their health ministries to address these issues throughout the church connection in Africa."

--Sarah Schiavetti


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