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United Methodist Church Recognized as a Champion of Health

By Melissa Hinnen*

September 21, 2010, New York, NY— As the chair of the executive committee of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative, of which Imagine No Malaria is a part, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton spoke at the Champions of Health event, hosted by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

The United Methodist Church is the first faith based partner in the Global Fund and is contributing 51% of the funds raised from the Global Health Initiative to the Global Fund in addition to implementing malaria prevention programs through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Bishop Bickerton explained that on a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, his passion for reducing deaths caused by malaria was reignited. Noting that every 45 seconds a child under the age of five dies from malaria, he recalled holding a child in his arms just hours before she died. He emphasized that Imagine No Malaria, is a dream that directly affects the lives and futures of people like that little girl and her mother.

Held at the United Nations during the United Nations General Assembly and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit, the event was designed to raise awareness among world leaders about the need to fully fund the Global Fund so that the health related MDGs can be achieved.

The opening speaker was the former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae. Other speakers included Ban Ki-moon, the UN General Secretary; Bernard Kouchner, France’s Foreign Minister; Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization; and Melinda Gates, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Health Networks Key To Effectively Addressing Malaria

Kouchner indicated that at the beginning of the millennium, only 200,000 people were being treated but today more than 3 million people are receiving life saving treatment. He calculates that at least 5 million lives have been saved through the Global Fund efforts in 144 countries. Outlining the need to go beyond distributing insecticide treated mosquito nets, Kouchner said that to meet the MDGs, it is important to strengthen health networks, provide education, and bring comprehensive prevention and treatment to people who are affected by malaria.

Thomas Kemper, an invited guest at the Global Fund event, agrees. The head of the church’s General Board of Global Ministries and part of the executive committee for Imagine No Malaria, Kemper said, “Trusted health systems are one of the reasons the United Methodist Church is so effective in implementing programs. The clinics, hospitals, and community health workers are all part of a connection that allows us to touch the lives of people living even in the most remote parts of the world.”

Funding the Fight Against Malaria

As Gates pointed out, one of the unique elements of The Global Fund is that it is funded by private and public sources. Groups such as Gift from Africa, a coalition of African businesses that are supporting the fight against malaria are joining with governments like France who have already pledged $1.4 billion for the next three year period.

Kemper says that in partnership with these private and public organizations, United Methodist giving makes a significant impact in the fight against all diseases of poverty including malaria. “Imagine No Malaria tests our commitment to the well-being of infants and the poor. It measures our determination to provide access to medical services and to promote physical health and wholeness.  But a full picture of a global health initiative—one aimed at achieving spiritual as well as physical well-being, assuring a healthy and healing church in a healthy world—would include table-fellowship, healing, and proclamation. 

*Hinnen is the Director of Communications for UMCOR