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Communications agency pledges bed nets for Mutare mission


The Rev. Cynthia Harvey talks with a child in one of the family homes at the Fairfield orphanage at the Old Mutare Mission. A UMNS photo by Bill Norton. 









By Linda Green*
Jan. 17, 2007 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)       

A tour of a hospital, children's homes, a maternity ward and a school for deaf children led the governing members of United Methodist Communications to pledge 175 bed nets for people using these facilities around Mutare.

The action comes as part of the agency's involvement in a global campaign to raise funds to eradicate malaria in Africa, where the mosquito-borne disease causes the death of one-fifth of all children under 5 years old.

The Commission on Communications made the pledge for the Old Mutare Mission Center and a deaf school in Mutambura during a Jan. 4-11 meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, and Mutare.

Commission members also provided communications training to pastors and lay people from across Zimbabwe at United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare. The meeting was the commission's first outside the continental United States.


The Revs. Lloyd and Tazvionepi Nyarota
have a bed net that protects their family from mosquitoes.

A UMNS photo by Ginny Underwood.

"We are in partnership ... to cover the continent of Africa with life-saving bed nets to halt the death of a child every 30 seconds from malaria," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive at United Methodist Communications, at the meeting.

Nothing But Nets assists parents in Africa in hanging insecticide-drenched nets over children while they sleep, a simple, inexpensive way to kill mosquitoes or keep them from biting.

In Africa, about 800,000 children die every year of malaria, according to the United Nations Foundation.

"The fact that the United Methodist Church is taking on the particular fight against malaria is a special thrill for me," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Millennium Development Goals and special adviser to Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations.

Speaking to the commission by video, Sachs said malaria is a "pervasive tragedy of life" in Africa. The disease is "a victimizer of the poor and a creator of extreme poverty," and those living in malaria zones are burdened by disastrous costs of poor health, by children who are ill and dying, and by the inability to attract foreign investors and tourists, he said.

"We have to break that vicious circle," he added.

Sachs, also the director of the earth institute at Columbia University in New York, said malaria is "utterly controllable and largely preventable" by insecticide-treated bed nets, and it is treatable if proper medicine is provided before the onset of serious complications.

Malaria particularly affects children because of the lack of bed nets and the lack of access to emergency health care facilities and treatment, he said.

"We are losing millions of children for want of the most basic, straightforward, proven interventions," Sachs said.  A bed net, which can last up to five years, "protects children from this scourge, from the transmission of this mosquito-borne disease," he said.

Raising awareness

A $10 contribution will cover the cost of providing a bed net to a family. The first $7 purchases and distributes the nets, which can cover up to four family members in a bed. The last $3 pays for community workers to educate families on how to use the nets.

"Losing children from malaria is shocking and unbelievable," Sachs said. He said he devotes his time to educating people about malaria and getting them involved in the fight against it. "When people are aware, people are filled with generosity," he said.

While there has been progress in fighting HIV/AIDS because of enhanced public awareness, he said, the problem of malaria is not as widely understood in the United States because the disease primarily affects poor people in tropical countries. Donations to anti-malaria efforts "remain pitifully small compared to what is so achievable and what is so urgently needed," he noted. To date, Nothing But Nets has raised more than $1.7 million with average donations of $62, but $6 million to $8 million more is needed, he said.

 New family homes have replaced dormitory-styled building at the Fairfield orphanage. A UMNS photo by Bill Norton.

Sachs hailed the church for its role in Nothing But Nets. "You are not waiting for anyone. You are just doing it," he said.

He sees a need for 300 million bed nets - or one net per person in America - for people in Africa.

With strength in numbers and conviction, the denomination can turn the tide on malaria, he said. "By bringing malaria under control, you can save billions of lives" and help Africa on its path toward development. "Africa wants help out of extreme poverty."

Domingos Antonio, a member of the communications commission and the father of eight children in Angola, said Africans have so many children because the pervasiveness of malaria kills many of them. Every day, more than 20 children die. "The problem is serious," he added.

Partners in Nothing But Nets include the people of The United Methodist Church, the United Nations Foundation, Sports Illustrated , the National Basketball Association's Foundation NBA Cares, Millennium Promise, the Measles Initiative, VH-1 and the Mark J. Gordon Foundation. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Communications are coordinating the denomination's participation in the campaign.

The first distribution of 150,000 nets was made in Nigeria in October, and Nothing But Nets and its partners will distribute more nets throughout communities in Africa in 2007 and 2008.

Caring for children

The commission decided to buy 175 bed nets after 30 members toured the facilities at Old Mutare Mission, the cradle of Methodism in Zimbabwe, to learn about health care for the 25,000 people at the mission and in the surrounding rural areas. They also participated in a learning session to find out about Africa University, which is now 15 years old.


 Commission members have pledged to buy 175 malaria nets for the beds
at the Fairfield orphanage.
A UMNS photo by Bill Norton.

Former visitors to the mission are familiar with the dormitory-style Fairfield orphanage that cared for orphaned babies until they reached age 5, then sent them other orphanages for older children. After a fundraising campaign in 2003, the building was replaced by family homes that house destitute and needy children. Today, Fairfield is home to 80 children living in eight families of 10 children, headed by a "mother." Of the 80 children, 33 are babies.

"I like living here," said 11-year old Peter. "It is good to live as a family."

Last year, Sylvia, 12, was living in a group. "Today I am living as a family. I am very happy and comfortable to be a member of a large family."

Low life expectancy

According to an April 10 Medical News Today article, the life expectancy for Zimbabwe is the lowest in the world, standing at 34 years for women and 37 for men because of the AIDS pandemic and economic circumstances plaguing the country. While an aggressive HIV/AIDS education and testing campaign has helped decrease the infection rate from 24 to 17 percent, the disease is still pervasive in the 17-to-40 age group.

Mike McCurry, a commission member and press secretary for former President Clinton, said "global health is hard for people to get their arms and hands around," but "if The United Methodist Church stays with malaria and makes a commitment to the Nothing But Nets Campaign, it can have the same impact that Rotary International had with their polio eradication campaign."

"People become involved when their own participation makes a difference and when they believe the problem can be solved," he said. 

He told the commission that the partnership with the organizations involved in the Nothing But Nets campaign places the denomination "at the cutting edge of the new politics of people coming together to solve problems."

The White House, which held a summit on malaria in December, has said President Bush will designate April 25 as "Malaria Awareness Day."

How to get involved

A special Web site, www.NothingButNets.net, 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 also has created a special Web page through www.UMC.org in conjunction with the campaign's Web site. Both sites feature additional malaria initiatives of the denomination.

A cell phone text-messaging network provides campaign updates to youth. They can send a text message to 47647, type "Nets" in the text field and hit "send" to be added to the network.

United Methodists can support the campaign through the denomination's Advance for Christ and His Church giving program. Gifts designated for Nothing But Nets, Advance #982015, can be sent to Advance GCFA P.O. Box 9068, GPO New York, NY 10087-9068 or made online.
"Nothing But Nets is doable through The United Methodist Church," said the Rev. Gary Henderson, a commissioner from Euclid, Ohio.

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

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

Video Interviews

Domengos Joaoantonio: "What we need is help."

Mike McCurry: "Give me one simple thing to solve."

Bishop Thomas Bickerton: "That grassroots movement will change lives."

The Rev. Randy Day: "The whole church is about connections."

Sam Perkins: "We all have a common goal."

Ruth Riley: "People there trust them."

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