Community Education Is Critical to Ending Malaria Deaths
November 24, 2008—Leaders in the fight against malaria gathered at the United Nations Nov. 19 to discuss the problem of malaria in a panel discussion hosted by the US Mission to the UN. "Achieving Our Targets: Stemming the Tide of Malaria in Africa" brought together seven experts in the fight against malaria, including the Rev. Dr. Sam Dixon, the United Methodist Committee on Relief's top executive.
Dixon spoke about the reach of The United Methodist Church and its millions of members both in the US and around the world. "United Methodists reach the most impoverished and remote regions-building schools and universities; hospitals and clinics; staffing, operating and strengthening critical health delivery systems from the ground up," said Dixon in his remarks.
Later in his talk Dixon further explained the unique positioning of UMCOR to provide assistance at the community level. "As a faith-based organization, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, through its religious roots, adds great value to the large international efforts to control malaria by utilizing the extensive network of local churches to penetrate deeply into rural and urban communities," he said.
Because of their connection to the global United Methodist Church, UMCOR and UMC health programs are able to operate in rural areas that may prove difficult to reach through traditional NGO and government networks. "It is these rural and often-impoverished areas that need the most assistance and suffer the greatest from diseases like malaria," said Dixon in a later interview.
During the session, Dixon referred to the recent mass distribution of more than a million nets in Côte d'Ivoire as an example of the power of faith-based organizations in the fight to eliminate malaria. "This effort not only offered real help to 1 million households but empowered recipients with accurate information about the cause of malaria and basic steps to prevent malaria," said Dixon referring to UMCOR's innovative training program that mobilized approximately 800 Ivorian United Methodist volunteers to provide net recipients with basic malaria prevention knowledge. This is an extremely important effort in an area where there are common misconceptions about the causes of and treatments for malaria.
Why Community Education Is Important
Ambassador T. Vance McMahan began the session by focusing on the importance of community education in the fight against malaria. "By educating those most at risk we empower them to protect themselves and share information within their communities," he said. The need to improve community education on the causes, treatments and how to prevent malaria was a common thread throughout the panel discussion.
"Reaching people at the community-level is what gives us the ability to save lives in our fight against malaria," Dixon explained in a later interview. "UMCOR's Community Malaria Program works through our United Methodist churches, hospitals and clinics to break the deadly cycle of malaria through a comprehensive approach that includes education, preventative measures and treatment."
"We have all become doctors."
Joyce Kafanabo, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania, where malaria has been nearly eradicated from Zanzibar in just three years, also spoke of the importance of prevention and education in the battle against this disease. "We have all become doctors," she joked when referring to the self-diagnosis and care that most Africans use to address health needs because access to health professionals such as doctors and nurses is not always available. To fight diseases like malaria, development agencies are turning to community health workers to provide life-saving health information.
Education ensures that parents know when to take their children to a local clinic when they become ill, what treatments to expect, and how to prevent malaria in the first place by properly and consistently using bed nets, spraying insecticides in and around the home and other measures.
Areas in which nets have been distributed without proper malaria education and follow-up have proved ineffective. A study in one Kenyan community revealed that many of the mosquito nets distributed through campaigns were used to dry fish. In other places mosquito nets have been used as bridal veils and fishing nets.
When the importance of a bed net in preventing sickness is not thoroughly understood the likelihood of its misuse increases-and preventable diseases like malaria continue to wreak havoc on families and communities and take the lives of more than one million women, men and children on the African continent each year.
How You Can Help
Help spread the word about malaria prevention and treatment community by community throughout Africa by giving to UMCOR's Community Malaria Program which provides education, treatment and nets through United Methodist hospitals and clinics in Côte d'Ivoire and beyond. Give to UMCOR's Malaria Program, UMCOR Advance #982008