Episcopalians and Anglicans have formed vital partnerships with governments and other faith-based organizations to begin to control and eradicate malaria at the One World Against Malaria Summit heard April 24 in Washington, D.C.
The summit, held at the home of the National Geographic Society the day before World Malaria Day, included the announcement of new commitments from faith-based organizations, including NetsforLife, a partnership founded by Episcopal Relief & Development, which pledged to mobilize more than 30,000 volunteers and distribute up to seven million mosquito nets in 17 sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years. This second phase of the partnership's efforts will be the largest distribution of nets yet by NetsforLife. In its first three years, the program distributed more than one million nets.
"We have helped the communities through our church and other faith-based organizations to make the fight against malaria a priority," Diocese of Northern Zambia Bishop Albert Chama told the summit.
Chama, who is also the acting leader of the Anglican Province of Central Africa, added that religious communities have reached areas "where nobody would think we could be, and this is a duty of the faith-based organizations and the church that we can get to can get to where the government can never be at times."
"This is the strength of the churches....therefore together we can fight and win the war against malaria."
Chama noted that the faith-based partnership he helps lead in Zambia, which includes partnerships with NetsforLife and the Global Fund to End AIDS, TB, and Malaria, has distributed 770,166 nets in a country of 11.5 million people. Those partnerships, Chama said, mean that "more can be achieved than what we have achieved now."
In her earlier keynote address to the summit, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice noted that this work has helped precipitate a 90 percent drop in malaria deaths in Zambia.
The summit was hosted by Ray Chambers, the U.N. Secretary Generalâs special envoy for malaria, and the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty. Its goal was to recognize the important role that faith-based organizations have in combating the disease and renew commitments to achieving U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonâs goal of providing universal access to malaria prevention by 2010, in order to end deaths from malaria by 2015.
Rice also told the summit that "faith-based organizations have some distinct advantages that make them exceptional partners in the struggle to end malaria."
"They have nearly universal reach: many rural areas lack health clinics, but they almost always have a mosque or a church," she continued. "Faith-based groups and houses of worship draw from a deep well of community trust. They can mobilize persuasive volunteers who can help educate their neighbors about how to use bed nets and when to seek treatment. And they have also proved to be fine record-keepers, helping governments track the rates of infection and death. Whether these good works are housed in a Presbyterian church in Malawi or a mosque in Nigeria, the results that they produce answer the prayers of children across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas."
Hassan Makda of the Islamic Congress of Mozambique, who spoke just after Chama, described the Inter-Religious Program against Malaria in Mozambique and noted that "we Muslims and Christians are working side-by-side to fight malaria."
"Today's event in Washington illuminated the special and critical role that faith institutions around the world play in the fight to eradicate malaria," said Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations. "Episcopalians can be proud of the work of Episcopal Relief and Development, through the NetsforLife initiative, in helping equip Episcopal and Anglican churches around the world to be at the front lines of these efforts in their communities."
During his remarks at the gathering, Chambers pointed to the key role of religious communities. "In the fight against malaria, the most consistent institution in every village is the church or the mosque," he said. "This is a new distribution mechanism to ensure that every person sleeps under a net."
Ed Scott, chairman of the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, said that "the faith community has been at this for a while."
"What's new and exciting is the collaboration between faith-based institutions and governments in their joint effort to end this deadly disease," he added.
Rice told the summit that "President Obama is firmly committed to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals," which include the goal of halting and reversing the incidence of malaria.
Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, U.S. Coordinator for the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI), which is a part of USAID, told the summit that religious communities "are not just part of a network, or a logistical-delivery mechanism for bed nets -- the importance of the religious community is that you change minds, hearts, and behavior."
One of NetsforLife's goals is indeed to instill what it calls a "net culture" so that entire communities understand the value of bed nets and the right way to use and maintain them, as well as knowing when to seek medical treatment and how to access effective treatment. Much of that work is done by way of local people who are trained as malaria control agents. They incorporate skits and songs into their teaching efforts, as well as aiding in nets distribution and installation.
Chama told the summit that he is trained as a malaria control agent and has helped train other colleagues.
Shaun Walsh, executive director of NetsforLife, said that the organization's education efforts "have helped to raise knowledge about malaria transmission from 50% to 82% in sub-Saharan Africa."
"We are now looking forward to reaching even more of those, especially children, most vulnerable to malaria," he said.
Dr. Steven Phillips of ExxonMobil Foundation, one of the NetsforLife partners, told the summit that "private sector and faith-based partnerships capture the best of both worlds."
"NetsforLife is also open for business to partner and collaborate with all faith-based partnerships represented here to give the people of Africa the chance for a brighter future," he added.
Also representing NetsforLife at the summit were Rob Radtke, president of Episcopal Relief & Development, and Diocese of Colorado Bishop Robert J. OâNeill, chair of the board.
Transmitted through infected mosquitoes, malaria infects 300 to 500 million people every year, kills 3,000 children a day and nearly 1 million people annually, and costs an estimated $12 billion in lost productivity in Africa, according to Episcopal Relief and Development. Chama told the summit that malaria has accounted for 40 percent of the deaths of Zambian children aged five and younger.
ERD estimates that when the insecticide-treated nets it helps distribute are properly used by three-quarters of the community, malaria transmission is cut by 50%, child deaths by 20%, and the mosquito population drops by as much as 90%.