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Nets distribution campaign kicks off in Côte d’Ivoire

United Methodist Bishops Benjamin Boni (left) of Côte d'Ivoire and Janice Riggle Huie of Texas (center) help distribute mosquito nets in Alepe, Côte d'Ivoire on Nov. 11. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Tim Tanton*
Nov. 12, 2008 | ALEPE, Côte d’Ivoire (UMNS)

This is the first month in a long time that Diakite’ Aichata has not had to take one of her children to the hospital because of malaria.

Sita Sangare, 4, clutches the insecticide-treated mosquito net she
received after getting a
measles vaccination.

The 20-year-old mother was among thousands of parents who waited in line Nov. 11 so that her two children could each receive a bed net that would protect them from mosquitoes, which carry malaria. The line outside one of two distribution stations in Alepe Town began forming at 6 a.m. and was still long by mid-afternoon.

The scene was repeated around Côte d’Ivoire with the launch of an integrated health campaign. In addition to the insecticide-treated nets, each child received a vaccination against measles, a dose of vitamin A and a de-worming tablet.

Aichata’s 6-month-old baby and 4-year-old toddler were not happy with getting the shots, and their screams of dismay coalesced with those of other small children under the distribution tent. However, Aichata was pleased, particularly with the net.

“I’m happy because it’s free,” she said in French, speaking through an interpreter.

United Methodists from the Côte d’Ivoire and Texas annual conferences joined with partners from the United Nations Foundation, the Ivoirian Ministry of Health and other organizations in kicking off the campaign in the West African country. The campaign will distribute more than 1 million bed nets to children, and it aims to provide the shots, vitamins and tablets to all 3.2 million Ivoirian children between the ages of 9 months and 59 months.

Town turns out

The kick-off ceremony, held at a high point on the main street into town, had a festive air with music and a performance by traditional dancers. Teachers led schoolchildren in groups to the gathering and large tents on the roadside sheltered local tribal chieftains, medical workers, government officials, and volunteer workers from the Texas and Côte d’Ivoire conferences. Other onlookers stood by.

Mothers and young children wait
in line for mosquito nets.

The United Methodist bishops of Côte d’Ivoire and the Texas Conference sat with other dignitaries in large pieces of furniture under the head tent. Bishop Benjamin Boni of Côte d’Ivoire gave the opening blessing. Later, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Texas brought a word of thanks and encouragement on behalf of the church.

“We have been looking forward to this day for a very long time,” Huie said. She described how, two years ago, she and Boni talked with the U.N. Foundation about the possibilities of preventing malaria among the people of Côte d’Ivoire.

Other speakers included representatives from the mayor’s office, the national Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

“This is the first time such a big event has taken place in Côte d’Ivoire,” said Dr. Komla Siamevi, the World Health Organization’s country representative in Côte d’Ivoire, speaking in French.

The nets will protect pregnant women and children under 5, who are most vulnerable to malaria, he said. The measles vaccinations will protect the children against a disease that kills 30 million people a year – 60 percent of them Africans, he said. The vitamin A will help the children’s eyesight and make them more robust, and the de-worming tablets will fight intestinal parasites, he said.

Symbolic first net

After the ceremony, the bishops presented a net to Anne-Aurore Nanan Tikoichi, the 11-month-old baby of Rosalie Amoakoa Atta. The mother and child were in the eye of a storm under the distribution tent, as other parents and children thronged the tables and members of the media closed quarters for photos and footage.

Dr. Marcel Koffi Koumi, director of the cabinet for the minister of health, administered a measles vaccination to baby Anne-Aurore, then tossed the crying baby into the air and caught her. Huie removed a blue net from its packaging and handed it to Atta, and she and Boni congratulated the mother.

Bishop Huie presents the symbolic first mosquito net to 11-month-old
Anne-Aurore Nanan Tikoihi.

Atta was glad to receive the net. “It will protect my child from a lot of diseases,” she said, speaking in French. “My heart is warm. I feel warmth in my heart.”

The kickoff ceremony for the campaign represented the culmination of months of work for the various partners. The Côte d’Ivoire and Texas conferences focused on the distribution of the nets, in cooperation with partners such as Population Services International, the Ivoirian Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Control Program, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and its United Methodist Committee on Relief agency, and United Methodist Communications, among several others.

Huie, whose conference raised more than $1 million for Nothing But Nets – an anti-malaria campaign involving the United Nations Foundation, United Methodist Church and other partners – is part of a 35-person Texas delegation that has come to Côte d’Ivoire to help with the nets distribution. Money raised through Nothing But Nets – a total of $20 million so far – paid for 85 percent of the nets that are being distributed, according to a press release from the initiative.

The bishop said she felt the presence of the people of her conference when she gave the net to Atta.

“It was really an extraordinary moment to give the first net, and to give it to a crying baby is probably a sign …,” she said with a laugh. “Right now, God’s mercy and grace are in the form of a long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed net.”

Boni and Huie later worked in one of the Alepe distribution stations alongside some of the Texas and Côte d’Ivoire volunteers.

“We have come to express the love of God,” Boni said afterward. “God will love our souls. God will love our bodies. God will love us in Jesus Christ.”

Information on Nothing But Nets and the campaign is available at www.umc.org/nets.

*Tanton is director of the Media Group for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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