Bishop Travels to Africa to Fight Malaria


 Western Pa. United Methodist Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, a South African superstar, government officials and other religious leaders have been helping to distribute 30,000 insecticide-treated bed nets in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where malaria is a leading cause of death.  The net distribution began with a public event April 16. 

 According to the World Health Organization, malaria infects an estimated 23.6 million people in the DRC each year, and causes an estimated 96,000 deaths. One in five children in the Congo dies from malaria before their fifth birthday. 
The nets are being given to families in the Bongonga neighborhood of Lubumbashi as a kick-off event for World Malaria Day, April 25. The date also marks the official launch of The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign, a comprehensive effort to raise $75 million to eliminate death and suffering from malaria in Africa by 2015. The campaign is supported by a partnership with the United Nations Foundation.
“Churches like ours are often the only organizations serving rural communities ‘at the end of the road’,” said Bishop Bickerton, chairman of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative. “That’s one of the reasons faith communities are such a vital part of efforts to eliminate death and suffering from malaria. We provide education and resources in out-of-reach areas with no access to a health care facility.”
In Western PA, United Methodists have raised funds for the long-lasting, insecticide treated bednets for years through Nothing But Nets. Now congregations are taking the next step by getting involved in the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Several will hold special events, sleep-outs or other events to raise awareness the weekend of April 23-25, dubbed the Change the World weekend. Congregations here and throughout the world will also participate in outreach activities to help others in their local communities. Learn more about Change the World.
On April 15, Bishop Bickerton, South African singer and malaria Ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Ktanga Province Gov. Moise Katumbi Chapwe, four other United Methodist bishops and leaders of other faith groups, will travel down a rough, muddy path to thje neglected neighborhood, bringing hope wrapped in square plastic bags.
Never has a VIP visited the community of more than 8,000 poor families, but now the governor of Katanga, the “Princess of Africa” and other high officials will be walking into local homes to hang mosquito nets.
The United Methodist Church and its partners of Coalition Religieuse pour la Santé (CORESA), a faith-based coalition of health organizations in Lubumbashi, have been laying the groundwork for the event that will celebrate the first distribution of nets.
CORESA, a multi-faith coalition formed in 2008 to implement community-based health programs in DRC, is coordinating the nets distribution. Along with the nets, the coalition works to instill a “net culture”—a community-wide understanding of the protective value of the nets, as well as how to use and maintain them. The United Methodist Committee on Relief was a leader in forming the coalition and designing this project.
The United Methodist Church also provided $150,000 towards the distribution effort—money raised through donations to Nothing But Nets, a global, grassroots effort to save lives in Africa through the distribution of nets. The United Nations Foundation granted $30,000 to conduct the initial strategic planning and training program for CORESA member organizations in January. NetsforLife® will supply the nets. NetsforLife® works in remote communities not reached by national health programs, using a network of local churches, faith-based groups and NGOs.
“In this country, we are born with malaria and we are dying with malaria,” said United Methodist Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo of the North Katanga area. Ntambo says it’s critical for the church to teach people about malaria, how to avoid it, and the importance of health care.
Besides Bishop Bickerton, other United Methodists from the U.S. in DRC to help distribute the nets include:  Bishop James Dorff of the San Antonio area, Bishop Earl Bledsoe of the Dallas area, and representatives from UMCOR and United Methodist Communications.