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United Methodists to launch malaria prevention program

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

A mother feeds her malaria-stricken child at United Methodist Chicuque Rural Hospital in Mozambique.
Aug. 8, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - When the Rev. R. Randy Day talks with United Methodist pastors in Africa, each one personally knows someone who has died from malaria.

About 90 percent of the 300 million to 600 million people affected by this preventable and treatable disease live in sub-Saharan Africa. A fifth of the region's children under age 5 die from malaria.

"It impacts the larger Methodist family across Africa and all other Africans," Day said.

That's why the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries - where Day serves as chief executive - is creating a health ministry to help eradicate the disease.

While malaria remains a global problem, it is the leading cause of death among young children in Africa, killing a child every 30 seconds, according to the World Health Organization.

The United Methodist Community Based Malaria Prevention Program will be launched on a small scale in Sierra Leone in early December. Cherian Thomas, M.D., an executive with the board's health and welfare unit, is in charge of the program, which will be administered through the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Day believes that being able to significantly reduce the number of malaria deaths is "a matter of spiritual and political will."

Although the program's initial budget is small, "on faith, we're stepping out to say we think United Methodists will respond," he added.

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Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control

The anopheles funestus mosquito is one of the two most important malaria carriers in Africa.
A special fund for the malaria prevention program has been established with the denomination's Advance for Christ and His Church, a "second-mile" voluntary giving program. The Advance Special offers a way for United Methodists to participate in the malaria program as individuals or through local churches, districts and conferences. As a mission project, the program touches upon issues of health care, poverty and the needs of children.

Day hopes the church can coordinate its efforts with aid groups working on the malaria problem, in particular by providing an infrastructure to reach local communities. "One of the great advantages we have is that we are a grass-roots organization," he said.

Although medical diagnosis and treatment of malaria cases is important, "equally important is the community mobilization for prevention," Thomas said. "That's the tough one."

The United Methodist Maternity and Health Center in Kissy, Sierra Leone, will host a workshop in early December to begin training. Participants are expected from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria.

To be successful, each community must assume responsibility for the prevention project, according to Thomas. Community prevention techniques include the identification and cleanup of mosquito breeding grounds, the use of proper mosquito netting, and the use of medicines for prevention and treatment.