Lighting Beacons of Hope: UMCOR Health Assists Africa Annual Conferences Strengthen Health Boards
By Linda Unger*
This month, the health unit of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will offer a three-day training of health board members of the Mozambique Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. The training, which will augment the board’s leadership skills, is part of a wider UMCOR Health program to build and empower annual conference health boards across Africa.
During its most recent General Conference, in 2008, The United Methodist Church determined that combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally would be one of four major focus areas for the denomination. The United Methodist's Imagine No Malaria campaign is one of the most visible efforts within its Global Health Initiative. While shoring up health boards has been less in the public eye, its significance is strategic.
“It’s about transferring to the local church the responsibility and care for running its hospitals,” says Dr. Cherian Thomas, UMCOR Health executive. “Missionaries from the United States and Great Britain started the hospital work in Africa, but now ownership has passed to the annual conferences there.” In short, building up health boards in developing countries is a matter of their independence.
It is also a matter of visioning global health needs in a particular conference and setting in motion the means to meet them.
United Methodist missionary Ted Warnock literally wrote the book—or, rather, the manual—on health board training. He compiled resources and over the past 11 months, has put them to use in workshops with health boards in four of the eight annual conferences in Africa: Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe (training in Liberia was conducted by a consultant, and Cote d’Ivoire and Angola are pending). Warnock will conduct the training in Mozambique this month.
Significance Beyond the Hospital
“The purpose of health boards of United Methodist Church annual conferences,” Warnock says, “is to establish themselves as the leadership and governing body for their hospitals, clinics, and other health-related programs, thereby providing holistic, affordable, and accessible delivery of health-care services.
“To accomplish this seemingly herculean mission,” he continues, “these boards establish strategic plans, promote community and donor partnerships, develop and implement policies, and promote an atmosphere of health-care delivery excellence through transparency and stewardship.”
“Health boards have to be made up of people who have a good understanding of health broadly conceived,” Dr. Thomas adds. “They are challenged to focus on the health of the country and not only of the hospital.”
A good health board within a particular United Methodist annual conference health system will not only strengthen the ability of the hospital or hospitals to provide treatment for a range of illnesses and injuries, it will address the broader concerns of preventive care through the development of community health networks.
Given the strategic role of the health board, its members—optimally 12 to 15—should evenly represent the diversity of the community of the health system’s principal gatekeepers: the church, the medical professions, and civil society (lawyers, accountants, etc.). In the best circumstances, it should represent a generational mix as well.
Driving the Strategic Health Board Model
Warnock, as facilitator, educator, and partner in the training process, works with the annual conference during each phase of a board’s development. He visits each hospital in advance of the training to review the facility, listen to institutional leadership, and observe “every detail that I believe may have an impact on the development of strategic plans,” he says.
“As a partner,” Warnock adds, “I understand that this training is not a one-time event. As the boards develop their strength and leadership ability, we will need to assist in providing additional modules, such as policy development, diversified grant writing, advocacy, contingency planning, and board transition through the inclusion of new members.”
The Center of Hope building in Mozambique where the UMCOR health board training will shortly take place is aptly named. Chicuque Rural Hospital has been a beacon of hope for the people of Mozambique for nearly a century. With a strengthened health board, the United Methodist health facility will shine even brighter.
*Linda Unger is the staff writer for UMCOR. Read the full story in the November/December issue of New World Outlook the mission magazine of The United Methodist Church.