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Malaria fight must go on, bishop tells UN

 
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3:30 P.M. EST September 22, 2010

Bishop Thomas Bickerton helps hang a mosquito net in the home of Naman Kalungo in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in April. UMNS file photos by Mike DuBose.
Bishop Thomas Bickerton helps hang a mosquito net in the home of Naman Kalungo in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in April. UMNS file photos by Mike DuBose. View in Photo Gallery

During a round of public appearances that included speaking at the United Nations, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton urged collaboration in efforts to beat malaria, a disease that kills an estimated 800,000 children in Africa each year.

The Pittsburgh-based bishop heads The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign. His presence Sept. 21 at events during the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals Review Summit showed both the power of partnerships and the need for collaboration among government, business and faith-based organizations in achieving goals such as reducing childhood (under 5) mortality by two-thirds and cutting worldwide poverty rates in half by 2015.

Many faith-based groups focus on saving lives, and The United Methodist Church is in the middle of a $75 million Imagine No Malaria campaign, with a portion of that planned to go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Founded in 2002, the Global Fund has committed $19.3 billion to programs addressing those diseases.

Progress has been made, the bishop noted. When the Millennium Development Goals were adopted in 2000, statistics showed a child under 5 died from malaria every 30 seconds. Today the most recent figures show the death rate has slowed to one every 45 seconds in Africa, still an unacceptable situation when talking about a preventable disease, Bickerton said.

“Children have been given a chance that they would not have had if this effort had not taken place,” he said during a panel discussion with journalists. However, he added, “we need a concentrated, coordinated, integrated effort of partners all over the world to get the job done.”

In addition to speaking on a panel at the U.N. summit and later to journalists, Bickerton was interviewed by CNN.

Economic challenges

In opening the summit Sept. 20, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized financial contributions. He said the eight Millennium Development Goals are achievable if member nations stay true to their commitments.

"Being true means supporting the vulnerable despite the economic crisis," he said. “We should not balance budgets on the backs of the poor."

Bickerton acknowledged that getting financial commitments for the Imagine No Malaria campaign in tough economic times is challenging, but he said many people are enthusiastic about the chance to make a real difference in the world.

Bishop Nkulu Ntambo (left) describes church efforts to improve drainage canals in order to fight malaria to South African singer and malaria ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka (center) and Bishop Thomas Bickerton in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo in April.
Bishop Nkulu Ntambo (left) describes church efforts to improve drainage canals in order to fight malaria to South African singer and malaria ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka (center) and Bishop Thomas Bickerton in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo in April. View in Photo Gallery

“What we are discovering in this process is that when people understand the story of human need, they respond,” he said. He cited examples of help received from United Methodists in other nations like Liberia, when Hurricane Katrina hit, and the outpouring of aid for the people of Haiti after the January earthquakes.

Still, the denomination’s work with the Global Fund builds on its 200-year history of developing hospitals, clinics and orphanages, Bickerton said. Between mid-2009 and mid-2010, the Global Fund provided 122 million insecticide-treated bed nets delivered through its funded programs to families at risk of contracting the disease.

The campaign – and the opportunity to save lives – has energized youth and young adults who “are looking for a connection between the church’s message and its ministry,” Bickerton said. They are seeking a way to live out their faith, “to engage and make it happen in their own lives.

“They believe they can make a difference, and they are depending on the leadership and government sectors to come through because they are trying as hard as they can,” he said. “They put the heat on leadership to deliver the goods. They need to know how, and they want to know more.”

Children deserve a chance

Bickerton said the Africans themselves motivate him and many other leaders.

Despite hardships of disease and extreme poverty, he said, “they have everything in terms of joy and spirit. I live in a country that has everything, and we struggle to find joy.”

There is an imbalance in the world between those who have and those who have not, the bishop said. In the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this year, a mother approached him, put her dying baby in his arms and asked him to pray for the child. He did. By the end of the day, the child had died from a preventable disease.

“We have to actualize that prayer through this effort,” he said. “That child in Africa deserves a chance just like my children have.”

Details about the Imagine No Malaria campaign can be found here.

*Campbell is director of communications for The United Methodist Church’s Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton or Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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