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Delegation delivers nets to malaria-infested township

The Rev. Ianther Mills prays with a Zimbabwean child receiving an insecticide-treated bed net to help prevent malaria. Mills was part of a team from the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference distributing 7,125 nets as part of the Nothing But Nets campaign. UMNS photos by Shaun Lane.

By Shaun A. Lane*
June 28, 2007 | CHAKOWA TOWNSHIP, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

Herbert Mlambo smiles as bed nets are distributed at Chakowa United Methodist Church in Chakowa Township in Zimbabwe.

Malaria robbed Herbert Mlambo of his family.

The devastating disease that kills one person every 30 seconds took one of his two sons, two grandsons, one granddaughter and his only sister. Another grandson is now battling for his life.

Mlambo has lost count of the many friends and relatives who also have died of malaria. He estimates the number to be in the hundreds.

The 53-year-old resident of Chakowa Township in Zimbabwe says he used to be a bitter man over malaria. But his attitude changed on June 11 as he quietly stood at a fence near the Chakowa United Methodist Church.

"I thought that no one cared about my small town," Mlambo said. "We are dying a slow, steady death. Malaria has really destroyed our population and the families here. … I thought we would all eventually die of it. But it looks like some help has arrived. This is beautiful to see."

Help arrived in the form of a blue net.

The Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference joined with the United Nations Foundation for an 11-day mission trip to distribute 7,125 insecticide-treated sleeping nets in and around Mutare, Zimbabwe.

The 13-member team of Baltimore-Washington pastors, staff members and volunteers delivered nets to more than 15 communities. Many pastors prayed with recipients as they received their nets.

Send a net, save a life

The nets are the instrument of Nothing But Nets, a global, grassroots campaign to fight malaria with sleeping nets. The people of The United Methodist Church are one of the founding partners of the campaign.

"I thought that no one cared about my small town. … But it looks like some help has arrived. This is beautiful to see."
--Herbert Mlambo

As Bishop John R. Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and delegation members distributed the nets, women and children danced and sang to express gratitude.

"It’s exhilarating for The United Methodist Church to be able to touch people’s lives, knowing that they will live longer because of what we’re doing," Schol said. "On the other hand, it leaves a lump in my throat knowing that so much more needs to be done."

While malaria has been eradicated in the United States, between 350 and 500 million people, primarily in Africa, are still infected annually. Nearly 3,000 people die from malaria every day in Africa, and 75 percent of those are children younger than age 5. According to the 2005 World Health Organization World Malaria Report, only 3 percent of African children under 5 sleep under an insecticide-treated net, a measure that substantially reduces the chance of contracting the disease since mosquitoes transmit malaria primarily at night.

The economic impact is crippling as well, costing Africa about $12 billion a year in lost productivity due to illness and death from malaria.

"It is a critical situation," said Blessing Zimunya, who works at the Chitora Clinic of The United Methodist Church in Chitora. "We are thankful for the kindness of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. These nets will help. But we need more help. We need more nets than what we have. There are still many children who will go without."

Bed nets work in two ways: They prevent mosquitoes from biting during the night and spreading the disease, and the insecticide on them also kills mosquitoes.

"The nets are a much better remedy than what we had before," said Wardlove Dhlakama, a nurse at the Chitora Clinic. "Before we used a special soap and cream to try to prevent the mosquitoes from biting people, but that is very expensive and we cannot afford to do that for everyone.

"It was also not very effective all of the time," she said. "The nets will do a much better job of preventing malaria infections and hopefully saving lives. And the children will sleep more comfortably. But we need more kindness like this."

The Rev. Victoria Starnes hands a young boy a bed net, as the Rev. Ernest Lyles looks on.

According to the United Nations Foundation, half of Zimbabwe’s population lives in malaria-prone areas. Increasing resistance of the malaria parasite to drugs has contributed to increasing outbreaks of malaria epidemics––one of the primary reasons the nets are among the most effective ways to prevent transmission.

"I wish I had known about the nets earlier and knew what some of the signs were," said Patricia Chikaka of her 2-year-old daughter’s death from malaria. "She would have slept in it every night. I have two other children and I will use it for them. The mosquitoes are very bad, especially during the summer. It is hard to sleep. Maybe we will sleep well now and not worry. That will be a blessing."

Blessing to be a blessing

At the Munyarari United Methodist Clinic, the Rev. Kendrick Weaver of St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Bowie, Md., said it was as much a blessing for him to give out the nets as it was for others to receive them.

"When they walk up to you and you see the gratitude in their eyes, you immediately want to do more," Weaver said. "Some of them dropped to the ground right in front of me and just gave thanks. It was an incredible experience––one that I will never forget. To directly contribute to a life-saving cause like this in the name of Jesus is truly a blessing."

"To directly contribute to a life-saving cause like this in the name of Jesus is truly a blessing."
--The Rev. Kendrick Weaver

People in clinics, villages and churches said there is still much to be done. Many people at mission stops were turned away because there were not enough nets for everyone. But instead of being angry, they remained optimistic.

"We just hope that the pastors remember us and come back," Chikaka said. "We need them to pray for us and continue to bring nets. We thank them."

Mlambo, the man who seemingly lost everyone close to him because of malaria, said he gives thanks as well. As nets were distributed in front of the Chakowa church, he stood motionless behind a fence and watched from a distance.

"This is a great day for them," he said, pointing to women and children receiving their nets. "I don’t want to get in the way. I know all of them. It’s good to see them happy. I just want to stand here and enjoy what I am seeing."

*Lane is director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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