Diocese of Atlanta unites to stop malaria

April 18, 2013

[Episcopal Relief & Development -- Web Feature] Atlanta has played a major part in the fight against malaria, both historically in the United States and now as a major force in the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund, Episcopal Relief & Development’s church-wide, grassroots effort to raise awareness and support for malaria prevention.  The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta launched their NetsforLife® campaign at the diocese’s 2011 Annual Council meeting, and celebrated its success one year later at the meeting in 2012.

“Malaria used to be a huge problem here in Georgia, until a major federal initiative – that would eventually become the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] – eliminated this mosquito-borne disease in the US,” said St. Luke’s parish representative and national Fox News correspondent Jonathan Serrie as he addressed the 2012 assembly.  “So, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta has embraced the idea of stopping this deadly disease from harming our neighbors in Africa.”  In fact, it was traveling through malaria-endemic areas and witnessing the devastation the disease can cause that compelled Serrie to get involved with Episcopal Relief & Development and support NetsforLife®.

Chief among those Serrie thanked in his remarks was Episcopal Relief & Development diocesan coordinator Debbie Betsill.  Betsill chaired the diocese’s NetsforLife® campaign and headed a “professional-level” team of co-chairs who managed finances and kept momentum going through social media, website updates and creative ideas.  The team’s efforts to connect with parish representatives and interested members yielded an abundance of creative campaigns by church, Sunday school and youth groups representing 94 out of the diocese’s 96 parishes.  Overall, the year-long campaign raised $184,105.98 for NetsforLife® – enough to supply 15,342 nets through trained Malaria Control Agents and provide protection and education to more than 46,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa.  This successful effort was key in helping the church-wide NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund campaign to exceed its $5 million fundraising goal.

“Everyone was invited to this ‘table’ and participated – children, youth, young adults, adults, Hispanic ministries, homeless ministries, from the wealthy to the poor,” Betsill said.  “The NetsforLife® campaign in Atlanta was a grassroots labor of love that culminated in honoring the outgoing bishop, welcoming our new bishop and opening a new page for our diocese.”

Launched in 2006, Episcopal Relief & Development’s award-winning NetsforLife® program partnership has become a leader in malaria prevention, reaching more than 27 million people in 17 countries across the African continent.  The program combats malaria by educating community members about proper net use and maintenance, and training community agents to deliver life-saving nets and provide ongoing monitoring and evaluation.  As of 2012, nearly 82,000 volunteers had been trained and more than 11 million nets had been distributed, mostly in remote areas where the Church is the sole provider of health and social services.

St. Bartholomew’s parishioner and CDC research scientist Dr. Stephen C. Smith knows these areas first-hand.  In his speech at the launch of the diocesan campaign at the 2011 Annual Council, Smith talked about his work over the past nine years, investigating the use of LLINs (Long-Lasting, Insecticide-treated Nets) in Africa.  Although the use of nets has resulted in a significant reduction in annual malaria-related deaths, he noted, international and local efforts to fight malaria must continue.  “We cannot rest,” Smith said.  “Unless we maintain our efforts we will lose our gains.  Wars, natural disasters, resistance to drugs and insecticides are all constantly at work to dismantle our successes.”

“Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria” is the theme for World Malaria Day 2013, a challenge to public, private and civil society sectors to redouble their efforts in order to sustain the gains made against the disease.  World Malaria Day, observed annually on April 25, is “an occasion to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria prevention and control,” according to the World Health Organization.  World Malaria Day is especially significant for Episcopal Relief & Development because of its commitment to fighting malaria through its NetsforLife® program partnership.

In ways large and small, the Diocese of Atlanta has also demonstrated its ongoing commitment to saving lives and preventing disease.  At St. Bartholomew’s, Page Love Smith, one of the co-chairs of the diocesan NetsforLife® campaign and wife of Stephen, headed up the team that put together the Malaria Zone science fair and potluck.  Stations were set up in the parish hall where visitors could climb under a malaria net, question scientists about the mosquito life cycle and watch an award-winning video by Simrill Smith (no relation) about this history of malaria in Georgia.

Other efforts around the diocese included the Cathedral of St. Philip’s March Madness fundraiser, which raised a total of 360 nets thanks to matching funds offered through the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund, and the Church of the Common Ground – whose members are mostly homeless individuals – raised more than $400 through their Advent and Lenten offerings.

“I am grateful to members of the Diocese of Atlanta for making the campaign such a tremendous success,” said Joy Shigaki, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Director for Advancement, who headed up the church-wide NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund campaign.  “The diocese is blessed with so many creative, committed, and dedicated leaders and supporters.  It was inspiring to see how many parishes and schools rallied in the fight against malaria.”

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