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United Methodists join launch of global malaria campaign

Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly (right) visits Yesirat Gafani and her son, Afusat Gafani, to see a Nothing But Nets provided mosquito net at their home in Epe, near Lagos, Nigeria. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 









By Linda Bloom*
Nov. 16, 2006 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

The people of The United Methodist Church are participating in the official kickoff of a malaria-prevention campaign that plays on the image of balls flying into nets to encourage donations for malaria nets for African families.

United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the denomination's Western Pennsylvania area said one of the campaign's most appealing aspects is that fact that "anyone, anywhere" can forge this lifesaving link with children in Africa.

"It all fits in to the whole issue of eradicating poverty," added Bickerton, who also serves as president of United Methodist Communications. "A million people are dying of malaria every year, 75 percent of them children."

The campaign asks for a $10 contribution. The first $7 purchases and distributes the nets, which can cover up to four family members as they sleep. The last $3 pays for community workers to educate families on how to use the insecticide-treated bed nets.


Bishop Thomas Bickerton, Elizabeth McKee (center) of the United Nation Foundation, and Kathy Behrens of NBA Cares take part in the Nothing But Nets kick-off in New York. 
A UMNS photo by Larry Nelson.

Partners in Nothing But Nets include The people of The United Methodist Church, the United Nations Foundation, Sports Illustrated, and the National Basketball Association's foundation NBA Cares, Millennium Promise and the Measles Initiative. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Communications are coordinating participation in the campaign.

A special Web site,, was launched Nov. 14 and online donations can be made through that site. The People of The United Methodist Church have a partner page on the site. United Methodist Communications is creating a special Web page through in conjunction with the campaign's Web site. Both sites feature additional malaria initiatives of the denomination.

The campaign originated with Rick Reilly, a Sports Illustrated columnist who became interested in the topic after watching a BBC television special, according to Elizabeth McKee, director of marketing for the United Nations Foundation. "When he called us, we happened to have the mechanisms in place to distribute insecticide-treated bed nets," she said. 

On May 5, 2006, Reilly wrote a column, headlined "Nothing But Nets," in which he asked readers who "have ever gotten a thrill by throwing, kicking, knocking, dunking, slamming, putting up, cutting down or jumping over a net" to donate money for bed nets. He raised $1.2 million.
Mckee said it was a "natural synergy" for The People of The United Methodist Church to join the "Nothing But Nets" campaign because of the denomination's long experience with malaria work. The United Nations Foundation -- a public charity created in 1998 with a $1 billion gift from Ted Turner to support U.N. causes and activities - builds public-private partnerships to address the world's most pressing problems.

"This natural blending of the sacred and secular…is a wonderful possibility for 21st century ministry," Bickerton added.


Bishop Thomas Bickerton conducts a radio interview for Nothing But Nets kick-off. A UMNS photo by Larry Nelson.

Calling Reilly "a wonderful illustration of public awareness," the bishop wants other groups - church youth, Scouts, basketball and soccer teams and "anyone associated with nets in any way" - to become tuned into this simple, inexpensive and lifesaving prevention tool in the fight against malaria.

He expects to use the denomination's connectional system to engage United Methodist youth and others in the campaign. Features such as text message updates provide a "dynamic" way to reach these potential contributors, he said. Anyone can send a text message to 47647, type "Nets" in the text field and hit send to be added to the network.

The "Nothing But Nets" Web site includes toolkits for youth to download. "They can also create their own team," McKee said.

The campaign will be highlighted at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship's Youth 2007 gathering July 11-15, 2007 in Greensboro, N.C.

Bickerton stressed that 100 percent of the funds raised are used directly for the purchase and distribution of bed nets. "Thanks to the United Nations Foundation, the administrative costs are being picked up," he explained.

To distribute the nets throughout communities in Africa in 2007 and 2008, Nothing But Nets has partnered with the Measles Initiative -- an integrated health campaign whose partners include the American Red Cross, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, UNICEF and the UN Foundation. 

The first distribution of nets - 150,000 nets in Nigeria - occurred in October and Reilly visited Nigeria with foundation staff the week of Nov. 6 "to ensure the nets were actually hung," McKee said.

She reported that the community health workers who provide education about malaria and demonstrate proper use of the nets "are the most important link to the chain."

Reilly's follow-up column on the campaign is scheduled for the Dec. 4 issue of Sports Illustrated, which will appear on newsstands on or around Nov. 28.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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

Video Interviews

Elizabeth McKee: "It was a natural synergy."

Bishop T. Bickerton: "...a wonderful new possibility for 21st century ministry." 

Bishop T. Bickerton: "...provides a linkage with children in Africa."

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