Faith groups respond to urgent anti-malaria appeal

A Somali woman waits in line for food to be distributed at the reception center of the Dagahaley refugee camp, in northeastern Kenya. Photo: ACT/Paul Jeffrey
A Somali woman waits in line for food to be distributed at the reception center of the Dagahaley refugee camp, in northeastern Kenya. Photo: ACT/Paul Jeffrey
Published October 13, 2011

Nairobi, Kenya-Religious denominations have boosted efforts to provide families fleeing famine and drought in the Horn of Africa with insecticide treated bed nets, a mechanism experts say is most effective in halting the spread of malaria in Africa.

In the U.S., the United Methodist Church and the Union for Reform Judaism on Oct.12 separately pledged contributions that will provide more than 12,000 nets through the Washington, D.C.-based U.N. Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign.

“Malaria is a leading cause of death among refugees,” said Paul Spiegel, Chief of Public Health at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), quoted in the foundation’s news release on Oct.12. The foundation is supporting the refugee agency’s appeal for 150,000 bed nets. “In addition to food and water, we need bed nets to keep these families safe,” Spiegel added.

“We’re proud to join UNHCR in protecting the hundreds of thousands of families in the Horn of Africa who need our help immediately,” said Chris Helfrich, director of Nothing But Nets. The Methodist church pledged US$100,000 toward the UNHCR appeal and the Union for Reform Judaism, US$20,000.

With reports indicating that every 45 seconds a child dies from malaria, faith groups around the world have been focusing on helping to stop the spread of the disease. Insecticide-treated bed nets keep out malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

A Methodist campaign that has been running for several years called Imagine No Malaria said on its website that in 2010 it helped reduce malaria cases to 135,000 from 217,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo after it installed nets in hospitals.

Presbyterian World Service & Development, the relief and development agency of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, through its refugee ministry, has been providing emergency kits that contain mosquito nets to Horn of Africa refugees. In northern Kenya, this has been supporting work at Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp containing some 500,000 people, through the ACT Alliance partnership of churches.

“Mosquito nets are very important here in Dabaab. A huge number of people, including children under five and the elderly, are vulnerable to malaria because the camps are in an area invested with mosquitoes,” Ann Wangari, the Lutheran World Federation Dadaab area coordinator told ENInews in an interview.

In 2005, Episcopal Relief & Development helped start NetsforLife, a partnership for malaria prevention in Africa bringing together faith based organizations, corporations, foundations and donors.

“Churches are often the only functioning institutions in these communities located ‘at the end of the road.’ Their presence and power unite people to bring about lasting change for the whole community,” says the initiative on its website. The program has delivered 1.5 million nets to 2.1 million people in 15 African countries and plans to deliver seven million more nets.

With these efforts, the World Health Organization says enough bed nets have been delivered to cover 76 percent of the 765 million people at risk of malaria worldwide, and in three years, 11 African countries have cut malaria rates in half.


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