Malaria Initiatives Join for 1st Time in Côte d’Ivoire Outreach
A UMNS Story
By Tim Tanton*
ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Dec. 15, 2008— The distribution of nearly a million mosquito nets in this West African country represents the first collaboration of two anti-malaria programs supported by United Methodists.
Staff with the Nothing But Nets campaign and the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Malaria Control Program worked together for several months, along with other key partners, in planning the November distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets to families in Côte d'Ivoire.
"We're hoping that this campaign here, in Côte d'Ivoire, will be a model for future campaigns to really leverage the expertise of faith-based groups, in particular The United Methodist Church," said Adrianna Logalbo, director of the Nothing But Nets Campaign at the United Nations Foundation.
"It's been really neat for us to develop these relationships with each other, and we've all brought something very different to the table," said Melissa Crutchfield, staff executive for international disaster response with UMCOR. The cooperation between the conferences and the agencies has "been a model and hopefully can be replicated ... for this same type of campaign in the future."
The nets were purchased through Nothing But Nets, and UMCOR helped train the volunteers who distributed them. UMCOR is a unit of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Nothing But Nets is promoted in the church by the Global Health Initiative, housed at United Methodist Communications.
"In many instances, we face problems of magnitude that are beyond the scope of any one organization, even the church," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top staff executive of United Methodist Communications. "The work in Côte d'Ivoire illustrates how partnerships that combine the strengths and skills of many partners can achieve a scale that benefits hundreds, if not thousands of people."
Education is Important
Other partners in the nets campaign included the U.N. Foundation and the denomination's Côte d'Ivoire and Texas annual conferences. The outreach was part of an integrated health campaign involving other partners, and it included providing measles vaccinations, de-worming tablets and doses of vitamin A to Ivoirian children between the ages of 9 months and 59 months.
Behind the scenes, UMCOR's Malaria Control Program paid for a training of 800 Ivoirian volunteers, comprising United Methodists from Côte d'Ivoire and community educators appointed by the Ivoirian Ministry of Health, and providing information to a 35-member delegation of Texas Conference volunteers.
Shannon Trilli, staff executive for project implementation with the Board of Global Ministries, emphasized the importance of educating people on the correct use of nets and training local volunteers. "Educating and preventing the disease rather than treating it once a young child or pregnant woman is infected is a more powerful strategy in our church's fight to eliminate malaria," she said.
Though many nets are distributed, "a dismal few are actually used" unless education is provided in an appropriate cultural context, Trilli said. She cited examples of bed nets being used to catch fish, protect farm animals and, in one instance, provide material for a wedding dress.
Started in 1996, the Malaria Control Program provides community training for prevention, free medications and consultations for people who are ill or vulnerable to malaria, and nets to pregnant women and families with young children. It addresses nutrition, water and sanitation needs, education, the "judicious spraying of insecticides" and strengthening the church's network of hospitals, clinics and health workers, Trilli said.
Working through the Kissy Hospital Outreach Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the program provides malaria training to traditional healers in rural villages, as well as counseling and nets to pregnant women and parents with children under 5. In a remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the program has worked with Minga Methodist Hospital to train local fathers on how to reduce malaria.
Trilli urged support for the Malaria Control Program along with Nothing But Nets.
The U.N. Foundation started Nothing But Nets in 2006, with the people of The United Methodist Church as a major partner. The campaign caught on with congregations and other groups, who purchased nets for $10 each in order to "send a net, save a life."
For nearly 10 years, the U.N. Foundation and its partners in the Measles Initiative-UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Red Cross-have been working to vaccinate every child under age 5 for measles. In the last two years, that effort has included the distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets.
The integrated campaigns-providing vaccinations, nets and other services-have been done in about 10 countries so far, Logalbo said. For the Côte d'Ivoire campaign, the U.N. Foundation served as the connection with partners such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Ivoirian Ministry of Health.
"What is incredibly unique about this instance," she said, "... is the fact that we have partnered directly with The United Methodist Church here in Côte d'Ivoire through our partnership with the people of The United Methodist Church in the United States." Church members spread the message about the campaign and served as a volunteer force, she said.
Nothing But Nets has worked with annual conferences in The United Methodist Church, including the Texas Conference, which announced last year that it would raise at least $1 million for nets. That money, along with $4 million in matching funds from Nothing But Nets, paid for the nets for Côte d'Ivoire.
The monitoring and evaluation phase now under way in Côte d'Ivoire is crucial, Trilli said. "In many cases, if it weren't for the follow-up home visits, the nets would not have been used."
The partnership must look at indicators of success beyond net usage, such as decreases in malaria cases and child deaths. Having a coordinated follow-up is the linchpin to a campaign's success. "We will work diligently to arm our Ivoirian UMC volunteers with the training and resources to complete this crucial aspect of the malaria net distribution," she said.
Hollon said the campaign's implications for the future are obvious. "Where we can partner with others who share similar concern for all peoples, the church should collaborate in life-giving, life-enhancing work. Surely it is what Jesus called his disciples to do when he called them to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, reach out to the imprisoned and care for the sick," he said.
*Tanton is director of the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.