Global health advances merit celebrating
Some of the greatest global health-related celebrations of the past four years have resulted in part from United Methodist-sponsored programs and partnerships, says Dr. Olusimbo Ige, executive director for the Global Health Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries.
"Millions die from malaria, HIV or birth complications," Ige says. "Our greatest celebration is being a part of the stories of those who didn't but who could have died without the timely interventions of the programs we support. To be able to say our programs through partnerships reached 36 countries and directly impacted the lives of over 4 million people — direct beneficiaries of trainings, recipients of nets, people successfully treated or screened for diseases — makes us extremely proud and humbled to be so used by God."
When the 2008 General Conference affirmed global health as one of the Four Areas of Focus for The United Methodist Church, the objective was eliminating diseases of poverty worldwide – including malaria and HIV/AIDS.
Eliminating death and suffering from malaria has been the signature program of the Global Health Initiative for the last eight years. At the same time, other health-related work through Global Ministries has included establishing community health programs all over the world. Together, church members and staff from general agencies have made positive impact.
"We also celebrate our rich network of partners," Ige says. "To accomplish such success in global health without spending millions of dollars on setting up offices and hiring expensive expatriate staff is something we are always eager to share. Our approach is to work through local faith-based organizations and church-based health boards."
Local people with skills in public health and administration and comprehensive knowledge of their communities staff the 13 new health boards established in Africa between 2012 and 2014, Ige says. "They were able to design the most culturally appropriate and context-specific programs at minimal expense. The staff were also able to mobilize thousands of volunteers to participate in the transformative work in their communities."
After the church in Zimbabwe mobilized volunteers trained as community health workers, the number of people who were tested and treated for malaria doubled within a year.
"Considering that the closest health center in this community is about an hour's walk away," Ige says, "the presence of community workers completely transformed the health outcomes in Mount Darwin by providing access to much-needed services in hard-to-reach villages."
Abundant Health new focus
The 2016 General Conference will consider a proposed Abundant Health Campaign to "continue our current programs in malaria, HIV and mother/child health but with renewed emphasis on child health," Ige says. "As we celebrate the success of the last few years, we are also very aware that every year 6 million children still die from preventable causes.
"Our success with Imagine No Malaria gives us the courage and the determination to do more," he continues. "We will be calling on the church to join us once again as we set a goal to reach 1 million children with lifesaving interventions. This time our work will include poor communities in the United States as well as globally."
Church's voice heard in health matters
Established in 2010, the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Health Board ensures that United Methodist health institutions provide holistic, affordable and accessible health care services. The board comprehensively addresses malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health, supports treatment and prevention programs, educates congregants, health facility staff and community volunteers, revitalizes health facilities and supports human resource development.
"With the Global Health Initiative's support," says Hannah S. Mafunda, area health coordinator, "the board has made The United Methodist Church visible in meaningful ways." As lives are transformed and saved, church leaders realize that the church can and should do even more. Strong partnerships with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, National Malaria Control Program and World Council of Churches let the church's voice be heard in health matters affecting the Zimbabwean people – especially those who live in rural communities."
Equipping hospitals with chemistry and hematology analyzers that improve patient care and generate income is one accomplishment. Others include revitalizing waiting mother shelters, which curb maternal and neonatal deaths, and providing clean water to 32,000 people in three communities.
Facilities open during Ebola crisis
In Liberia, support from the Global Health Initiative has benefited programs in HIV awareness, prenatal care and malaria prevention, control, diagnosis and treatment. Water and sanitation projects have reduced the cases of water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea and typhoid fever.
Allen Zomonway, health director for the Liberia Conference, says, GHI's support of health facility revitalization and staff allowed most United Methodist facilities to remain open during the Ebola crisis. Most other health facilities in Liberia had to close.
"From providing motorbikes to aid smaller rural clinics' outreach programs, to improving our laboratory facilities' ability to properly diagnose and treat diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and other common infectious conditions, to having pipe-borne water in all of our health facilities to prevent and control the spread of infection, GHI is making a positive difference in Liberians' lives," Zomonway said.
Rebuilding a healthcare system
When it was created in 2012, the Eastern Congo Episcopal Area inherited a disjointed healthcare system. An abandoned infrastructure and a glaring lack of drugs and equipment rendered it unable to meet the needs of the people, says Dr. Philippe Okonda Akasa, area health coordinator.
A new Board of Health Development, formed with support from Imagine No Malaria, "has a strategic plan for strengthening existing health services and establishing new ones," Okanda continues. "Health Board members have been recruited and trained, and facilities, such as the Lokole Health Center, were built. Large batches of antimalarial medicine, antibiotics and fluids were also provided."
Health centers in Mangobo, Likeri and Bukavu received much-needed basic equipment, including examination and delivery beds, microscopes, blood pressure monitors, thermometers and scales. More than 40 physicians, nurses and laboratory technicians received additional training in managing diseases – especially malaria – the leading cause of death in the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 100 community health workers are now trained health educators.
Support through the Global Health Initiative, Okonda says, is fighting malaria, but it is also strengthening the health system's ability to provide quality care through community-based interventions, such as HIV testing of pregnant women and implementing an informational program about HIV/AIDS in schools.
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.
Imagine No Malaria: Closing in on a killer
Since the launch of the Imagine No Malaria (INM) campaign in 2010, United Methodists have provided more than $68 million in cash and pledges to support efforts to end death and suffering from this preventable disease. Fundraising efforts led by United Methodist Communications have helped staff and volunteers from the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the General Board of Global Ministries' Global Health Unit to:
- Maintain 300+ clinics
- Train 11,600+ health workers
- Distribute 2.3 million bed nets
- Renovate 28 health facilities
- Test and/or treat 340,000 people for malaria
Additionally, IMN's support of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has enabled the distribution of hundreds of millions of beds nets and treatments to fight malaria.
While malaria has not yet been eradicated, the future is full of hope. Since 2010, the rate at which a child's life is lost to malaria has dropped from every 30 seconds to every two minutes. While that is still far too often, the number of people living today who otherwise may not have are a testament to the importance of the lifesaving interventions made possible by INM and global partners.
The United Methodist Church will continue to be a recognized faith leader in global health – especially in anti-malaria efforts. The pledges of faithful INM supporters will continue to support the work of malaria prevention, treatment, communication and education to ensure that all children have a chance at abundant life.
During 2017-20, reach 1 million children with lifesaving health interventions.