Imagining no malaria: Partners needed to see success

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Imagine that you’re 13 years old, and you, along with 70 percent of your school classmates, have contracted malaria. This was the reality faced by Fortunne, a girl living in Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Bas Congo district. True to her namesake, Fortunne had the good fortune to be cured in a local hospital. Her entire family now sleeps under a bed net, one of more than 17 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets that have been distributed in DRC for malaria prevention with the support of the United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign and the Global Fund.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships such as these are crucial to the battle against malaria, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where a child dies every minute from the disease. So today, on behalf of The United Methodist Church (UMC), I’m proud to join Global Fund Executive Director Mark Dybul, Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative Global Coordinator Tim Ziemer and Senator Chris Coons on Capitol Hill to recognize April 25’s #WorldMalariaDay and announce the UMC’s new $9.6 million donation — the largest single contribution ever made by a faith-based organization to the Global Fund.

Significant progress has been made in the malaria fight, with the global mortality rate decreasing 47 percent between 2000 and 2013, but the disease will only be defeated if multiple sectors combine assets to achieve greater collective impact. In 2010, the Global Fund and the UMC’s Imagine No Malaria campaign joined forces, leveraging the Global Fund’s scope and resources to improve health care infrastructure and create greater sustainability in the UMC’s network of hospitals and clinics in Africa. The Imagine No Malaria initiative is in the final year of a $75 million campaign for the battle against malaria, with the goal of providing $28 million to the Global Fund. Beyond malaria, the UMC-Global Fund partnership is also critical to fighting other diseases of poverty, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

Faith communities such as ours play a fundamental role in addressing the world’s health challenges, with many hospitals and clinics around the globe tracing their roots back to missionaries and churches. For decades, long before multilateral and bilateral global health institutions were created, faith-based organizations have been providing lifesaving prevention, care and treatment, and contributing to the sustainability of global health programs, often to the poorest and hardest-to-reach populations.

The UMC’s Imagine No Malaria initiative, for example, has distributed more than 2 million insecticide-treated bed nets throughout Africa. Between 2012 and 2014, 134 African health facilities benefited from Imagine No Malaria funding. The funding also supported renovations of another 20 health facilities in Sierra Leone and DRC, and the launching of three mobile clinics in Nigeria. During the past two years, Imagine No Malaria has provided United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) grants to support malaria control in 16 countries: Angola, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Through the UMC-Global Fund partnership, 10 additional sub-Saharan African countries have launched a comprehensive malaria program. During 2014 alone, $2.1 million in contributions from The United Methodist Church were disbursed by the Global Fund, specifically for grants to the countries of Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe for malaria control interventions.

Beyond its UMC partnership, the Global Fund is strengthening ties with faith-based organizations (FBOs) globally. Through May 2014, 61 grants had been signed by FBOs as principal recipients of Global Fund grants in 28 countries, accounting for more than $900 million in cumulative disbursements since the Global Fund’s inception in 2002. This represents an increase of 17 new faith-based principle recipients and an additional $520 million in disbursements since 2010. Globally, FBO sub-recipients have received over $500 million in Global Fund grants since the Global Fund’s inception, funding projects in at least 73 countries.

Furthermore, the Global Fund’s funding model, revised in 2013, has expanded opportunity for the meaningful involvement of civil society organizations — including FBOs — as well as communities and key affected populations in designing, monitoring and implementing programs. Under the new funding model, numerous points of entry exist for FBO engagement with the Global Fund, as outlined in Friends of the Global Fight’s recent publication, A Critical Partnership: The Lifesaving Collaboration Between the Global Fund and Faith-Based Organizations.

Malaria is completely preventable and treatable, but experts estimate that eliminating the disease as a serious health threat will require $5.1 billion annually. In 2014, less than half that amount was available. More resources are urgently needed, and this can only be achieved by congregating a diverse range of government, non-government, faith-based and other global health partners. It is critical that stakeholders reinforce each other’s efforts, collaborating through partnerships such as that between the UMC and the Global Fund, to maximize impact in this winnable fight.

Bickerton is a bishop with the United Methodist Church. Henderson is executive director of Global Health Initiatives for United Methodist Communications.

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