We can wipe out malaria once more

Looking at what gives our lives meaning, the signs are all around us here at General Conference. One of the most visible of those signs today has been The United Methodist Church’s campaign against malaria.

General Conference delegates arriving at the convention center this morning were greeted by giant walking mosquitoes — colleagues wearing mosquito costumes. They were a friendly reminder that today is World Malaria Day. The not-so-friendly statistic that accompanies that fact is that 60 people in Africa die every hour from this killer disease.

Later this morning, the church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign gave a presentation on the impact that United Methodists are having on reducing malaria deaths and addressing the disease’s root causes. A “dance mob” took to the General Conference floor, complete with people dressed as mosquitoes going after victims.

For me, though, the highest-impact moment came this evening with the screening of “A Killer In The Dark.” The ballroom was packed with at least 250 people, many from Africa but also a large number from other parts of the world that aren’t afflicted with malaria.

I had seen the documentary before at United Methodist Communications, but my second viewing carried the same power as the first. Seeing the ravages of the disease on small children — the primary victims — is hard to watch.

Yet communities are responding. In Kamina, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo had villagers dig or re-dig a series of canals to get stagnant water moving away from residential areas, reducing the conditions for mosquito breeding. In Kenya and elsewhere, researchers are pushing forward on finding a cure for the disease. Those signs of progress give us hope.

This hope springs from the efforts of Imagine No Malaria, the church’s campaign to reduce death and suffering from malaria by 2015. “To date, we’ve raised more than $20 million in support of Imagine No Malaria,” says my colleague Gary Henderson, who shepherds Imagine No Malaria.

In the past two years, The United Methodist Church and its partners have added precious minutes to the lives of children in Africa, reducing the mortality rate from one child every 30 seconds to one life every 60 seconds. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. But we can’t stop there.

No one — no child, no adult — should die from malaria in the 21stcentury.

Malaria is a destroyer of families and lives, yet it is beatable. How can we as people of faith not rise to the challenge of eradicating this disease? Doing so would be as powerful a statement about the people of The United Methodist Church as any resolution that we could ever adopt.

Most important, we would be giving children in Africa the same chance for life as kids in other parts of the world where malaria has been wiped out.

Malaria at one time was a leading killer in the United States. We managed to wipe it out. We can do it again.

“A Killer In The Dark” is available free as part of The Imagine No Malaria DVD (product #0722). You can get it by calling (888) 346-3862 orgoing online.

Reflecting in the newsroom tonight on World Malaria Day 2012, Gary told me, “It was a great day. There was energy. There was momentum.

“We can’t lose sight of the goal at end of the road,” he said, “and World Malaria Day helps us do that.”

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