|Malaria captures attention of United Methodist leaders|
Julian Hillyer of Vanderbilt University Institute for Global
Health shows a container of mosquitoes to Alexandria Combs-Morgan and
Arnold Parks, members of the United Methodist Commission on
Communication. UMNS photos by Maile Bradfield.
By Deborah White*
Sept. 30, 2008 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
Vanderbilt University scientists helped United Methodist
leaders confront a tiny killer of 2.7 million people a year—the mosquito
that carries malaria.
In fact, the mosquito is a "mass murderer," concluded members
of the global health committee of the United Methodist Commission on
Communication after meeting with researchers at Vanderbilt University
Medical Center’s Institute for Global Health.
Five scientists presented to the committee their multi-faceted
research into breaking the cycle of malaria. Their work includes
studying how mosquitoes become infected with malaria, how they transmit
malaria, what smells attract mosquitoes, how to prevent contact with
humans and how to lure mosquitoes into traps. Scientists also gave a
tour of the institute’s insectarium where they conduct experiments with
eight species of African mosquitoes flown in as larvae from Africa.
The Rev. Greg Cox tours the insect lab. aaaa
"We went to hear about a serial killer. This little critter
called the mosquito, it’s one of the most dangerous critters in the
world," said the Rev. Greg Cox, during the committee’s Sept. 26 report
to the full commission.
Scientists at Vanderbilt’s Institute for Global Health are
"very passionate people involved in a process that will lead to the
eradication of a killer disease," said Cox, pastor of College Hill
United Methodist Church in Beaver Falls, Pa.
The United Methodist Church has identified global health and
eradicating the killer diseases of poverty—including malaria,
tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS—as one of the denomination's four areas of
ministry focus. Out of that focus, the denomination has launched its
Global Health Initiative, led by United Methodist Communications.
"The cycle of the disease is an important component," said Greg
Nelson, a commissioner from Halsey, Ore., who chairs the Oregon-Idaho
Conference Communications Committee. "We learned what they (mosquitoes)
like, what they want to smell. They like limburger cheese!"
Scientists emphasized the word "sustainability" in reference to
tools for eradicating malaria. "They are creating new systems—products
like a no-fly zone. Mosquitoes would be attracted to pods outside a
house," Cox said.
Finding the right tools
The visit to Vanderbilt helped commissioners understand that bed nets are important in preventing malaria.
Since 2006, the people of The United Methodist Church have been a
partner in the Nothing But Nets campaign, which has raised more than $20
million to buy insecticide-treated nets to protect families from
mosquitoes. "But to get to the point of eradication, we have to use more
tools," Nelson said.
Vanderbilt scientists emphasized that malaria is a disease of poverty.
"In order to change people, we can’t just focus on health, but also
social and economic development," said Alfredo Vergara, a Vanderbilt
epidemiologist. "The impact of malaria worldwide is tremendous—300
million to 500 million people are living with malaria globally, most in
Hillyer talks about mosquito-
borne diseases during a
presentation on malaria.
The economic impact of malaria on the health care system is also
large—about $14 billion annually, Vergara said. Yet only about 5 percent
of the deaths from malaria occur in hospitals. "We only see the ears of
the hippopotamus," he said.
Future interventions into malaria will include vaccines and genetic modifications, the scientists predicted.
"We are taking 21st-century science and using it to screen for better
repellents," said researcher Larry Zweibel. "We want to create no-fly
zones around people and huts." This could involve making traps of DDT
mixed with substances that attract mosquitoes or make their sense of
smell go into "overdrive."
Partnerships with local entrepreneurs could develop malaria-fighting
chemicals, but the Vanderbilt scientists have signed off all rights to
the World Health Organization. "We are not looking to make a profit. We
want to make a difference," Zweibel said.
A 'foot in the door'
For United Methodists, the Nothing But Nets campaign "has gotten our
foot in the door" in the fight against malaria, said Bishop Thomas
Bickerton of Pittsburgh, a commission member who serves as a
spokesperson for Nothing But Nets.
The Rev. Gary Henderson asks a
question during a malaria presentation
by Vanderbilt University scientists. aaaaaaaa
But eradicating malaria will be a cooperative effort involving
thousands of players. "Nothing But Nets is just a tiny piece of this
whole thing," Bickerton said.
"It’s got to be more than nets," echoed Bishop Sally Dyck of
Minnesota, president of the United Methodist Commission on
An opportunity for United Methodists to expand the fight
against malaria and other diseases of poverty will come through the
Global Health Initiative, which was approved by the 2008 General
Conference, the denomination's top legislative assembly. The goal in the
next three to five years is to raise $75 million with another
"challenge goal" of $25 million.
Bickerton was impressed with the work at Vanderbilt.
"The Global Health Initiative, if it’s going to be successful,
has to be a comprehensive approach to making the world a healthier place
for all of God’s children, and one of the places where we as United
Methodists can learn is in the area of science and research," he said.
The institute is, in a sense, a partner with the church because
both are recipients of Gates Foundation grant funds, Bickerton said.
He expressed hope that the church would distribute vaccines,
repellents and medicines being developed at Vanderbilt.
"There was a wonderful spirit among those professors and
scientists that they, too, have the same goal that we have," he said,
"to make the world a better place for God’s children."
*White is associate editor of Interpreter magazine.
News media contact: Deborah White, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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