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Africa University to blanket continent against malaria

Bishop Nkulu Ntambo and Fanuel Tagwira of Africa University display an Insect Shield blanket to be distributed through the United Methodist-related school in Zimbabwe. UMNS photos by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
April 14, 2008 | JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (UMNS)

(From left) Board members Lenora Thompson, the Rev. Heinrich Meinhardt, Roar Fotland, Thokozile Chitepo, Caroline Njuki and Wee-Li Tan listen to a presentation.

Africa University is partnering with a U.S.-based manufacturer to blanket the continent with specialized blankets that ward off disease-carrying mosquitoes and pests.

The Africa University board of directors, during its March 24-28 meeting, applauded the university's collaboration with the United Converting Co. LLC of Silver Spring, Md., to distribute Insect Shield blankets to regions of Africa in the fight against malaria and other insect-borne illnesses.

The university's development office is negotiating with the manufacturer about the terms.

"We see the blanket as something we can run with because we have students coming from 22 different countries who can extend the blankets to their countries so that our people can be protected from malaria and other diseases," said Fanuel Tagwira, interim vice chancellor of the United Methodist-related university.

Bishop Nkulu Ntambo, university chancellor, called the blanket a "life-saver" and "the hope of people."

"It is better to prevent than cure," Ntambo said. "Africa has been facing a lot, and malaria has been the first killer. It affects our morality, our belief and our health."

In Africa, malaria has had the worst impact on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its 60 million people, said Ntambo, who is from the Congo. He noted that a lack of education fosters a belief that malaria is the result of sorcery and witchcraft and divides many families.

"This blanket which will prevent and give hope to people is more than a living life. Congo will enjoy it more than anyone. Congo will have hope," he said.

Multiple tools

The blanket initiative will not compete with Nothing But Nets, according to James Salley, the university's vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

Nothing But Nets is an anti-malaria campaign of The United Methodist Church and other partners to buy and distribute $10 insecticide-treated sleeping nets for families in Africa. During its first year, the campaign raised more than $18 million for the nets.

The blanket, when slept under or placed around a person, wards off pests such mosquitoes, ticks, lice, fleas and flies. The product has been tested in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Salley said.

"The blanket takes the fight to the next level," said Bishop Ernest Lyght, chairman of the Africa University Advisory Development Committee.

University leaders say the blanket is another tool in the fight against controllable diseases.

"It is better to prevent than cure." –Bishop Nkulu Ntambo

"It is not a competition," Tagwira said. "Our idea is to help our communities, and anything that will help to improve our communities and eradicate malaria can only complement instead of compete with."

Donors are being solicited to purchase blankets adorned with the university's logo for the school's 1,300 students and staff and for the children and staff at the nearby Old Mutare Mission, a United Methodist ministry that daily draws nearly 4,500 people to its grounds.

"The blanket is going to help us to play a large part in the eradication of malaria on the African continent," Tagwira said.

For more information, contact the Africa University Development Office at (615) 340-7438.

Challenges in a crisis economy

In his first report to the board, Tagwira said his first three months as interim vice chancellor have been challenging and rewarding. He spoke of meetings with students and staff about their concerns and of his invitation to them to take active roles in finding solutions to the challenges confronting the Pan-African school.

"We all understand that pragmatic and prudent decisions must be taken as we make our way in this harsh and unpredictable economic environment," he said.

Zimbabwe is a country in flux economically and politically under embattled President Robert Mugabe.

The Associated Press reports that a third of the population depends on imported food handouts. Another third has fled the country and 80 percent is jobless. Inflation is the highest in the world at more than 100,000 percent, and people suffer crippling shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine. Life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 35 years.

Tagwira said the university is trying to fulfill its mission, but said the country's crisis environment has had a critical impact on the academic staffing of two of the university's largest disciplines––humanities and social sciences and management and administration. The university is using part-time teachers to fill vacancies left by staff who left for more lucrative positions. The school also has begun a payment plan to retain academic staff.

In other actions, the board learned that:

  • The university's telephone and electrical systems are being upgraded;
  • Some residence halls are scheduled for renovation;
  • Students have implemented a campaign to help purchase a bus to transport them to the city and other local sites;
  • Two students are in an exchange program with Kalamazoo (Mich.) College and Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio, through August;
  • Academic Search Inc., based in Washington D.C., has been chosen to help the university find its next vice chancellor;
  • The university will launch a Master of Intellectual Property degree program in May;
  • Africa University and Japan International Christian University have entered a student "Invitee Program" agreement in which two students from the faculty of humanities and social sciences will attend one year of studies in Japan before returning to Africa University to complete their degree requirements;
  • Bishop Woodie White will deliver the June 7 commencement address for the university's 14th graduation ceremony, where 314 students are scheduled to receive degrees.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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