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Global partnership takes aim at malaria deaths

Ted Turner (left) listens as Srgian Kerim, president of the United Nations General Assembly, speaks during an April 1 press conference announcing the establishment of a global partnership to help end malaria deaths.
UMNS photos by John C. Goodwin.

By Linda Bloom*
April 2, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

United Methodist Bishop Janice Huie joined Ted Turner at the United Nations on April 1 as he announced an expanded global partnership to help end malaria deaths.

The hope is that the partnership, led by the people of The United Methodist Church and Lutheran World Relief and organized by the United Nations Foundation, will raise $200 million to fight malaria in Africa. Development of the partnership has received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

United Methodists already have worked with the United Nations Foundation — founded by Turner, a businessman and philanthropist, a decade ago — and other partners on the Nothing But Nets campaign to purchase and distribute insecticide-treated bed nets for Africa as a malaria prevention tool. The campaign had raised more than $18 million by the end of 2007, its first year.

Huie, who is president of the denomination’s Council of Bishops, told United Methodist News Service that she expects the denomination will "accept Mr. Turner’s challenge" and become engaged in the effort, "which we see as an entry point into the diseases of poverty."

She stressed however, that the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, will make the ultimate decision about the partnership. The 2008 General Conference will meet April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.

A devastating disease

Turner, Huie and Chad Amour, representing Lutheran World Relief, attended the U.N. General Assembly’s "Thematic Debate on the Millennium Development Goals," which included a luncheon featuring Turner as the keynote speaker. The invitation came from Ambassador Srgian Kerim of Macedonia, who is president of the General Assembly.

The eight Millennium Development Goals focus on meeting the needs of the world’s poorest people and include reducing the numbers afflicted by extreme poverty in half, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and providing universal primary education – with a target date of 2015.

Transmitted by mosquitoes, malaria infects more than 500 million people a year and kills more than a million. In Africa, where the disease is particularly devastating, it is the leading killer of children.

United Methodist Bishop Janice Huie listens during the press conference.

During a press conference preceding the luncheon, Turner called the United Methodist Church and Lutheran World Relief "two of our finest religious institutions" and lauded the pledge "to do their best to raise $200 million additionally" to end malaria deaths.

Kerim noted that "security begins with development" and said the focus needs to be on facts, not politics, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. "It’s a huge operation; the whole world is involved," he added. "Of course, it’s difficult, but we’re making progress."

Leveraging resources

Through the new global partnership, United Methodists and constituents of Lutheran World Relief — which include members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod — would be educated about malaria and poverty-related diseases and mobilized for action; support efforts to prevent malaria and strengthen health systems; and provide financial support to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The initiative also would help advance the churches’ on-the-ground health missions.

Huie said a recent grant from the Gates Foundation allowed the church to conduct a feasibility study "that indicates the UMC has the capacity to raise $100 million (for malaria)."

The global partnership would move the denomination into an arena "where we hope to be able to leverage the resources and commitment of United Methodists around the world," she said.

In Africa, the bishop pointed out, the Lutheran presence is stronger in some countries and United Methodist presence stronger in other countries. "It’s very complementary that, together, we cover a good portion of the continent," she added.

Engaging world’s religions

Amour said that while the Lutherans have had experience in malaria-related programs in some individual countries, the global partnership offers a more intentional focus on the disease.

During a four-month stay in Tanzania to shoot a documentary, Amour said he noticed a gap in the funding available for small grass-roots organizations as compared to bigger U.N.-related organizations. "My hope is to help Lutheran World Relief fill that gap," he explained.

In his speech at the luncheon, Turner encouraged the United Nations to engage "the world’s great religions" in advancing the Millennium Development Goals.

"Faith leaders have a long history on the front lines of anti-poverty efforts," he said. "These institutions have been feeding the hungry, educating the young and healing the sick longer than the U.N. has been in existence. And they have a history of walking the talk by actively engaging their members in this great moral campaign for justice and human dignity."

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

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

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