With deaths from malaria practically unheard of in the U.S., it might be easy to forget that the mosquito-borne disease kills hundreds of thousands of people on the other side of the globe every year and adversely affects millions more.
For Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, the tragic toll taken by malaria, particularly in Africa, was driven home during the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, where he eagerly searched for a friend from the North Katanga Conference that he had met four years earlier, when General Conference was held in Fort Worth, Texas.
When he finally found someone from North Katanga to ask, he learned that his friend had died from malaria.
|A mother tends her malaria-stricken child in the Republic of Congo. File UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.|
“It just hit me then how many people it affects,” said Campbell-Evans, now the Florida Conference director of Missional Engagement. “I was so struck by it. … He had died of something that is completely treatable and preventable.”
So Campbell-Evans is excited to be in the planning stages for a new partnership between the Florida Conference and Imagine No Malaria, the United Methodist campaign that aims to wipe out deaths from the parasitic infection by funding education, protective mosquito nets and other prevention and treatment strategies.
This summer, the Florida Conference will use a $40,000 grant from United Methodist Communications to launch an initiative intended to increase awareness of and donations to the global church goals.
“We’re becoming an official partner for this initiative,” Campbell-Evans said.
Campbell-Evans said he and a steering committee are in the process of interviewing candidates for a field coordinator for the initiative, with a goal of hiring someone by May.
Details of the initiative are still being worked out and will be announced at the 2014 Annual Conference in June, Campbell-Evans said. He anticipates that local churches, many already familiar with the Imagine No Malaria effort, will see a stepped-up presence, as the field coordinator makes visits and contacts across the state.
The initiative likely will last around 18 months, Campbell-Evans said.
Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference, who heads Imagine No Malaria fundraising efforts for the Global Health Initiative, said by phone that Florida couldn’t have made its commitment at a better time. With $60 million raised and a goal of raising $15 million more by 2015, the promise of help from the Florida Conference is significant.
“I look over the years at the Florida Conference, and it’s one of the strongest conferences in the connection,” Bickerton said. “We think the people of Florida can help take us home.”
Florida is the 30th annual conference to make a formal commitment to Imagine No Malaria, said Ashley Gish, assistant campaign director.
“One of the things that most excites us about partnering with the Florida Conference is its rich diversity and how that diversity will enhance the community-focused grassroots efforts of Imagine No Malaria,” Gish said in email comments to Florida Conference Connection.
Bickerton and Campbell-Evans said each conference partner determines its financial commitment and level of involvement. Frequently, participation continues after initial goals are met, Bickerton said, because there’s something contagious about a ministry that achieves so much.
“It has been a very tangible way for people to realize they can make a difference by saving lives,” the bishop said. “People get excited about it. It is a very practical way for people in the pews to make a difference.”
The Imagine No Malaria campaign grew out of a partnership with Nothing But Nets, a nonprofit organization that has helped save lives by distributing protective bed nets to communities that are vulnerable to malaria.
The United Methodist effort also works with other organizations to educate people about life-saving precautions and conduct research into additional preventive measures, including development of a protective cream repellant, Bickerton said. Imagine No Malaria funds have been used to attract matching grants that have made the donations go further, he added.
Gish said campaign funding has helped train 12,000 community health volunteers in vulnerable African communities. The volunteers distribute bed nets and teach community residents how to use them, as well as make them aware of available services at 300 United Methodist health care facilities on the continent.
“It is not enough to drop a net on a doorstep and expect someone to use it. In a few communities, we even saw nets being used for fishing, wedding dresses or even sitting unopened on a shelf,” Gish said, referring to early efforts that preceded the Imagine No Malaria campaign.
Researchers have been encouraged by a promising vaccine being developed to fight malaria. Bickerton said approval is likely three to four years away, however, and with so many lives at stake, it’s important not to abandon preventive measures that are proven lifesavers.
“The campaign is designed to be part of a bridge to get us to that vaccine,” Bickerton said.
-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.