ERD Congressional Testimony highlights role of faith-based institutions in fighting malaria in Africa

April 26, 2007

In a hearing to mark Africa Malaria Day April 25, Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) testified before a key U.S. congressional subcommittee on the role of faith-based organizations in fighting the malaria pandemic in Africa.


"The Church and other faith communities … are the first point of contact for help," Susan Lassen, a consultant who coordinates ERD's NetsForLife program in malaria control, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health.


"Faith communities have long had the ability to build and mobilize a delivery system that will reach the most vulnerable populations who live 'at the end of the road,'" said ERD President Robert W. Radtke.



Unparalleled infrastructure, capacity
"As the global community develops new and innovative methods to control and prevent malaria, the challenge of distribution becomes absolutely critical," Lassen told committee members. "NetsforLife capitalizes on the infrastructure of the Anglican Church to reach vulnerable populations."


The full testimony can be read here.


NetsforLife is a one-year-old initiative of ERD, carried out in partnership with the Anglican Churches of Africa, to distribute one million insecticide-treated malaria-prevention bed nets in 16 sub-Saharan African countries by the end of 2008. Thus far, the program has distributed 213,000 nets in Angola, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique. It is funded by private individual donors, Churches, the Starr Foundation, the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, the ExxonMobil Foundation, and Standard Chartered Bank. To learn more about NetsForLife, visit er-d.org/malaria


Also testifying at the hearing were Admiral Tim Ziemer, coordinator of the United States President's Malaria Initiative; Mark Grabowski, Malaria program manager for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Enid Wamani, secretariat coordinator for the Uganda Malaria and Childhood Illness organization; Dr. Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council; and Adel Chaouch of Marathon Oil and the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa.


Bed nets are large sheets of insecticide-treated meshing designed to be draped over the beds or sleeping areas of people living in regions where malaria is prevalent. The nets shield users from malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which spread the disease during night hours.


Health-care professionals consider net use fundamental to efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, which causes more than 300 million acute illnesses and at least one-million deaths each year in developing countries.


"A mother and her two children can be protected from malaria for five years for a total cost of approximately $12," ERD told the subcommittee, explaining that this cost reflects not only the price of the net but also training in proper use, education in other methods to prevent malaria, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.


An emerging consensus

In addition to ERD's focus on mobilizing the infrastructures of African Churches, the Episcopal Church is supporting malaria-control efforts through its advocacy to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst in the Church's Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C. Goal 6 of the MDGs is "combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases."


"The advocacy of Episcopalians through the ONE Episcopalian campaign is playing an important role in building a new consensus in the U.S. Congress and Administration that fighting deadly poverty and disease throughout the world should stand at the forefront of our nation's foreign policy," said Baumgarten.


Since the beginning of 2007, Congress has approved more than $1.3 billion in increased funding for anti-poverty and disease initiatives, with the Senate voting to further increase funding over the coming year by an additional $2 billion.


"The understanding among U.S. policymakers of the relationship between poverty and disease and its affect on conflict and global stability is light years ahead of where it was two or three years ago," said Baumgarten.


President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush addressed the importance of malaria-control efforts in comments yesterday in the White House Rose Garden to commemorate Africa Malaria Day. Speaking about the eradication of malaria in the United States in the 1950s, President Bush said, "we've solved this problem before. And the fundamental question is: do we have the will to do the same thing on another continent? That's really the question that faces this country and other nations around the world. My commitment is: you bet we have the will. And we've got a strategy to do so."


"Defeating malaria is going to be a challenge, but it's not going to require a miracle," said the President. "That's what I'm here to tell you. It's going to require a smart and sustained campaign."


The Rose Garden ceremony highlighted the work of the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI), a five-year $1.2 billion initiative to spur government partnership with private organizations, including faith-based institutions, in the fight against malaria. Baumgarten said that the Episcopal Church is actively advocating for maximum congressional funding of PMI and related efforts.


Wholeness and wellbeing
In her testimony, Lassen also stressed the unique level of commitment and energy that faith communities draw from their theological background and experiences: "For the faithful of Africa…their core identity is shaped by the sense that God is using them to help draw their communities into the wholeness and wellbeing he intended for them when he created the world and proclaimed it good."


Lassen told subcommittee members of an Angolan woman named Malita who lost a child to malaria but has since been trained by NetsForLife as a community malaria leader. Describing people like Malita as the "hands and feet" of NetsForLife, Lassen concluded her testimony by telling lawmakers that "If she was here today, Malita would say: 'God is good all the time. All the time God is good.'"

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