New Methodist Health Ministry Targets Malaria

The mission agency of The United Methodist Church announced on Tuesday a new health ministry aimed at helping to eradicate malaria, a controllable disease that kills a child every thirty seconds.

The United Methodist Community Based Malaria Prevention Program will be launched in Sierra Leone in the fall and will be extended from there. It will involve existing church-related health facilities and personnel.

“We are acting in faith in this program,” said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the General Board of Global Ministries. “We believe United Methodists will rally to this cause as they learn about the increasing ravages of the mosquito-borne parasites that cause malaria and ways the disease can be prevented and treated.”

According to the World Health Organization, malaria affects some 900 million people worldwide and kills between 1.5 and 2.7 million people annually. Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit but areas of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean are also affected. A majority of the deaths are among children under five years of age.

“Malaria control is a form of Christian ministry,” Day said, noting that the new initiative is part of an emphasis on “Health and Wholeness” in which all general agencies of the denomination are taking part.

Day proposed a malaria initiative in an address to the board directors last April. The community-based approach was organized by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) – the Health and Relief Unit of the international mission agency.

“Community mobilization is a key component in the fight against malaria,” said Dr. Cherian Thomas, who is the staff member in charge of the community-based program and has played key roles in setting up other community based health programs.

According to Thomas, community action is needed to clean up the breeding grounds of the malaria-bearing mosquitoes, assure that mosquito netting is used and that persons take medicines for prevention and treatment.

“The community must own, manage and be responsible for the project if it is to succeed,” said Thomas.

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, director of UMCOR, said the United Methodist Community Based Malaria Prevention Program will be coordinated with international and national programs of prevention and treatment.

Malaria is a major cause of and a result of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, significantly decreasing economic productive, he added.

“Rampant malaria slows progress in developing countries significantly simply due to the human hours lost to the course of the illness, as well as to the death toll,” Dirdak stated.

Meanwhile, Thomas explained that the community based initiative will use medical and technical personnel at United Methodist-related health facilities to train community volunteers, who will then work with churches, civic associations, and local government in implementing malaria control efforts.