|The Challenge: Saving Thousands of Lives in Sierra Leone|
|Ivoirian public health officials and United Methodist volunteers carry insecticide-treated mosquito nets for distribution in Lahou-Plage, Cote d'Ivoire. Some 855,000 nets were given out in the West African nation during a November 2008 campaign. Photo by Mike DuBose
By Kathy Noble
Malaria kills thousands of young children under 5 in Sierra Leone each year. It contributes to the country having the world's highest maternal mortality rate. Widespread use of insecticide-laced bed nets can change those statistics.
"The people of The United Methodist Church will seek to help cover the entire vulnerable population of Sierra Leone with bed nets," Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops, announced during the One World Against Malaria Summit in Washington, D.C., in April.
The Sierra Leone initiative is part of international efforts to blanket sub-Saharan Africa with nets and to end all deaths from malaria by 2015, to make Imagine No Malaria deaths a reality.
Sierra Leone is a "perfect place for nets," says the Rev. Sam Dixon, executive director of UMCOR, as "we are trying to reduce needless deaths caused by malaria." Twenty-six percent of the country's children die before they are 5 years old, reports UNICEF -- 40 percent from malaria.
"Saving Lives in Sierra Leone" is the effort to raise $15 million in 2009 to fund an integrated health campaign there late this fall. A $200,000 challenge grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) using income generated by The Anne Ryckman Fund will match gifts made to Nothing But Nets through the end of June.
Fund raising for "Saving Lives in Sierra Leone" will continue after the challenge grant deadline.
United Methodists are partnering with the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies and the Health Ministry of Sierra Leone to acquire 1.2 million nets (400,000 are already available for distribution). An integrated health campaign, during which they will be distributed, is planned for late November, says the Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the Global Health Initiative for United Methodist Communications.
Ivoirian public health workers Jean Paul Adje (left) and Christopher Teau (background) help Anne Niamke hang an insecticide-treated mosquito net at her home in Lahou-Plage, Cote d'Ivoire. Photo by Mike DuBose
Sufficient nets are available now. "If we wait to purchase these nets," campaign organizers say, "thousands of people will lose their lives to this preventable disease." Nigeria and Congo are to receive nets in 2010.
In addition to the net distribution, the health campaign will also include measles vaccinations and administering doses of Vitamin A and deworming medication, said Henderson. It is planned to follow a model used in C2te d'Ivoire in November 2008.
Health workers from Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown and Mercy Hospital in Bo will train volunteers to teach recipients to open, hang and care for the nets, says Dixon. They will also take the campaign "deep into the country, giving the opportunities to distribute nets in the most rural areas."
Volunteers will also learn an obligation to respond to everyone asking for nets, "not just Christians," Henderson says. Ideally they will also continue to monitor use of the nets and provide education.
United Methodists in Germany have already contributed $130,000 for Sierra Leone nets. All the funds raised for "Saving Lives in Sierra Leone" will be "part of our commitment to raise $75 million to combat malaria through the United Nations Malaria Partnership," Palmer told other religious leaders, government policy makers and world health executives at the summit.
Wiping out disease and bringing healing to a continent "is deeply rooted in (United Methodists') DNA," Palmer said. "This is where we have been asked by God to be."
--The Rev. Kathy Noble, editor, Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine with contributions from United Methodist News Service stories by Tim Tanton and Melissa Lauber.Date: 7/22/2009