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United Nations panel discussion targets malaria

Marie Akissi Arriko hangs an insecticide-treated mosquito net in her home in Agboville, Côte d'Ivoire. She received the net in November during a distribution campaign supported by United Methodists in Texas and Côte d'Ivoire.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By Michelle Scott*
Nov. 24, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

A United Methodist relief executive described how The United Methodist Church is playing a role in the fight against malaria as he participated in a panel discussion at the United Nations.

The Rev. Sam Dixon

The Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was among seven experts talking about "Achieving Our Targets: Stemming the Tide of Malaria in Africa" during the Nov. 19 panel sponsored by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

He cited the reach of The United Methodist Church and its 11.5 million members across the globe.

"United Methodists reach the most impoverished and remote regions—building schools and universities; hospitals and clinics; staffing, operating and strengthening critical health delivery systems from the ground up," Dixon said.

UMCOR is uniquely positioned to assist at the community level, he explained.

"As a faith-based organization, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, through its religious roots, adds great value to the large international efforts to control malaria by utilizing the extensive network of local churches to penetrate deeply into rural and urban communities," Dixon said.

UMCOR and the denomination’s health programs operate in rural areas that may prove difficult to reach through traditional nongovernmental and government networks. "It is these rural and often-impoverished areas that need the most assistance and suffer the greatest from diseases like malaria," Dixon added in a later interview.

During the panel, Dixon cited the recent mass distribution of almost 1 million nets in Côte d’Ivoire as an example of the power of faith-based organizations in the fight to eliminate malaria. United Methodists in Côte d'Ivoire and Texas were among partners in the Nov. 11-15 campaign, along with UMCOR and the U.N. Foundation.

"This effort not only offered real help to 1 million households but empowered recipients with accurate information about the cause of malaria and basic steps to prevent malaria," he said.

UMCOR mobilized approximately 800 Ivorian United Methodist volunteers to provide net recipients with basic malaria prevention knowledge. The training is important because the area is rampant with misconceptions about the causes of and treatments for malaria, Dixon noted.

Community education

Ambassador T. Vance McMahan, U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly, began the session by focusing on the importance of community education in the fight against malaria. "By educating those most at risk, we empower them to protect themselves and share information within their communities," McMahan said.

The need to improve community education on the causes, treatments and how to prevent malaria was a common thread throughout the panel discussion.

"Reaching people at the community level is what gives us the ability to save lives in our fight against malaria," Dixon explained later. "UMCOR’s Community Malaria Program works through our United Methodist churches, hospitals and clinics to break the deadly cycle of malaria through a comprehensive approach that includes education, preventative measures and treatment."


“Reaching people at the community level is what gives us the ability to save lives in our fight against malaria.”
–The Rev. Sam Dixon
Joyce Kafanabo, an official with the Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania, where malaria has been nearly eradicated from Zanzibar in just three years, spoke of the importance of prevention and education.


"We have all become doctors," she joked, referring to the self-diagnosis and care that most Africans use to address health needs because access to doctors and nurses is not always available. To fight diseases like malaria, development agencies are turning to community health workers to provide life-saving health information.

Education ensures that parents know when to take their children to a local clinic when they become ill, what treatments to expect, and how to prevent malaria in the first place. Prevention methods include properly and consistently using bed nets and spraying insecticides in and around the home.

Efforts to distribute nets without proper malaria education and follow-up have proved ineffective. A study in one Kenyan community found many mosquito nets distributed through prevention campaigns were being used to dry fish. In other places, mosquito nets have been used as bridal veils and fishing nets.

To help spread the word about malaria prevention and treatment, UMCOR's Community Malaria Program takes donations through UMCOR Advance #982008. People may give through their local United Methodist church or mail checks to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write "UMCOR Advance #982008, UMCOR Community Malaria Program" on the check memo line. For credit card donations, visit UMCOR's Web site at www.umcor.org or call (800) 554-8583.

*Scott is the executive secretary of communications for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

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


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