Molly McNamara and Logan Martens, two teenagers from the United Methodist East Ohio Conference, have been making lemonade since they were 6 years old to help make a difference in the fight against malaria.
Now 16, the pair traveled to Sierra Leone in June to see firsthand the impact of their hard work. They spent a week traveling to different parts of the country where The United Methodist Church has invested resources in the fight against malaria.
“I was really impressed by what (the hospitals) were able to do with such limited resources,” McNamara said. “It was exciting to see that, but I also realized that there is still a lot of work to be done” to expand the church’s outreach.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that kills more than 400,000 people annually, according to the World Health Organization.
Ebola affects malaria fight
Dr. Samuel Smith, head of Sierra Leone’s National Malaria Control Program, said that the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak dealt a severe blow to gains in the fight against malaria.
The outbreak occurred when one of the Long Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets distributions was taking place. It spread so fast that the hang-up phase, which follows the distribution of nets, was cut short or never done in some communities.
“If someone was positive for Ebola, the response drive was to destroy all the materials in that household — the beddings, mosquito nets, etc. So, unfortunately, some of the nets were lost in those affected areas … people had to disinfect and decontaminate. So, we could not replace at that point in time,” Smith said.
“In fact, there was drastic reduction in the utilization of our services because people were frightened to go to the health facilities,” he pointed out. “Health workers were scared of the patients and the patients, too, were scared of health workers. Unfortunately, we lost over 300 health workers, including 11 doctors. So it had an effect on human resources in health.”
More than 28,000 contracted Ebola in the 2014-2015 outbreak. The hemorrhagic fever killed more than 11,000, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
— Phileas Jusu
The teens, who have been pitching lemonade stands for the past 10 summers, raised $100,000 for the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria initiative, which officially launched in 2010 with a $75 million fundraising goal to fight malaria in sub-Saharan African.
The church’s efforts — Imagine No Malaria transitioned into the Abundant Health initiative of the Board of Global Ministries after the 2016 General Conference — focus on reducing malaria deaths through the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets.
The work also includes renovating hospitals and medical clinics to be better equipped to diagnose and treat malaria, and educating health workers and the community about malaria and the proper use of mosquito nets.
Since The United Methodist Church began its malaria efforts, global mortality rates have fallen by an estimated 60 percent, according to the Imagine No Malaria Comprehensive Impact Report published in 2017.
The head of Sierra Leone’s National Malaria Control Program, Dr. Samuel Smith, called McNamara and Martens heroes.
"I’ve never heard of youths championing the course of malaria. This is something we can learn from. They can be good ambassadors. Raising over a hundred thousand dollars! When translated into nets, that money amounts to many children saved,” Smith said.
The teenagers, accompanied by their mothers and a team of four others, visited United Methodist health facilities in the country, cutting across cities and remote communities.
Smith said the National Malaria Control Program also is partnering with the Sierra Leone Conference in malaria case management at United Methodist Kissy Hospital and at Hartsfield Archer Memorial Hospital in Rotifunk.
Martens said he was impressed with what he saw in both locations.
“With Rotifunk, the surgeons’ operating room is very advanced compared to the area it’s in; especially with the long journey we took to get there — the bumpy road,” he said, talking about the journey to Hartsfield Archer in this remote community.
“It’s really a modern health facility that I was not expecting. With Kissy, it’s a large hospital that I felt is pretty clean and advanced.”
HOW TO HELP
Pledges made by supporters to Imagine No Malaria (Advance #3021190) will continue to support the work of malaria prevention, treatment, communication and education, however, the denomination is widening its scope to create abundant health for all and support lifesaving health ministries to enrich the lives of people around the world. Donations also can be made through Abundant Health Advance #3021770.
Martens said he was glad to hear that some of the Imagine No Malaria funding focused on education in addition to prevention.
“Education is just as important as prevention, because if you give someone a bed net in a village, if they don’t know what to do with it, then it won’t help them at all. The people of Rotifunk said that they send teams out to educate the villagers … which is just as useful as providing them with the tools to help themselves,” he said. “I do think that Imagine No Malaria is benefitting this area in a huge way.”
The visit also was an opportunity for the Sierra Leone Conference to update the youth and the rest of the team, which included Tatenda Mujeni, malaria program manager for Global Ministries’ Global Health unit, on the level of collaboration the conference’s health program has made with the Sierra Leone government in the fight against malaria.
The conference health board has worked on two nationwide Long Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets distributions, in 2010 and 2014.
“Global Ministries has invested over $2.8 million for health programming in Sierra Leone since 2010,” Mujeni said.
That includes a recent $613,209 expansion of Kissy Hospital, which is transforming an unused hall into a standard surgical theater and X-ray department, in addition to the purchase of drugs, reagents and nets.
Smith appealed for more support from the church for the 2020 national distribution campaign, which will require about 4,800 of the insecticide-treated nets.
“We’ve mobilized 50 percent of the net costs and 100 percent of the non-nets costs. So we have a gap of 50 percent,” he said.
Smith noted that funding for malaria has been dwindling in recent years.
“We want more money to reach out, to increase our coverage and save more lives. So, this is a new dimension — bringing in children and youths; definitely, they can create impact.”
The National Malaria Control Program is developing strategies and programs in collaboration with partners, including the United Methodist health team, to minimize the high rate of maternal mortality, a good proportion of which is caused by malaria infection, Smith said.
“Unfortunately maternal death is not reducing. … malaria in pregnancy is our concern,” he said.
Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest estimated maternal mortality ratio of 1,165 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the 2017 United Nations Population Fund report. “The sad truth is that most of the deaths of mothers can be prevented if adequate care is available and provided,” the report stated.
Mujeni said Global Ministries’ Abundant Health initiative, which aims to reach one million children with life-saving interventions by 2020, also includes care for mothers.
“Life-saving intervention is everything that prevents morbidity and mortality, illness and sickness in children from birth to the age of 5 years old. And this also includes antenatal care and pregnant women.
“As we already know, malaria is a disaster in pregnant women. They are the most vulnerable,” she said, adding that providing treated nets, malaria medication and other resources are part of the denomination’s goal in providing abundant health for all.
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests