United Methodists host Nets partners in Angola
Feb. 28, 2007
A UMNS Report By John Gordon*
LUANDA, Angola (UMNS)-While visiting hospitals and clinics filled with mothers cradling sick and dying children, professional basketball star Ruth Riley saw "what the face of malaria looks like."
Touring the African nation on a malaria observation trip hosted by the people of The United Methodist Church, the WNBA star urged people everywhere to support Nothing But Nets, a global campaign working to provide insecticide-treated bed nets to protect families against disease-carrying mosquitoes.
The nets cost $10 each, and 100 percent of each gift goes to the cost of buying and distributing them to families in underdeveloped nations such as Angola, where mosquitoes typically transmit malaria at night while people sleep. Health officials say the nets can reduce transmission by as much as 90 percent.
"I can tell you that the need is so great, and the contribution is so small," said Riley, who led Notre Dame and the Detroit Shock to collegiate and WNBA championship in 2001 and 2003 respectively, taking Most Valuable Player honors in both tournaments.
The 6-foot-5 center joined former NBA star Sam Perkins, NBA executive Brooks Meek, Elizabeth McKee of the United Nations Foundation and representatives of The United Methodist Church in the Jan. 27-31 tour.
The church, the U.N. Foundation and NBA Cares are partners in Nothing But Nets, which is taking aim at one of Africa's biggest killers of children. While malaria can be prevented, it kills some 800,000 African children each year.
Since its launch in 2006, the campaign has raised more than $4 million to buy and distribute more than 400,000 nets to families in Africa. The nets have gone to Mozambique thus far, and Angola is among 21 other African nations in need. Campaign organizers plan to distribute nets in those countries in partnership with their governments' ministers of health.
"The United Methodist Church, as a partner to Nothing But Nets, is very important," said Riley, citing "the community-based organizations they have here ... and the relationship they have with their people."
The church's East Angola (Annual) Conference organized the hospital and clinic visits so the delegation could observe and speak with people first-hand about malaria.
"In the hospital we visited this morning, they said that they lose four to five children a day from malaria," said Riley.
McKee, who is director of marketing for the U.N. Foundation, said the trip allowed the group to see the "horrible effects" of malaria up close. "We saw anemia, cerebral malaria, babies with low immune systems who subsequently got HIV, mothers and fathers who are ill, and children who were orphaned when their parents died from malaria," she said.
The delegation met with health officials in Angola as well as officials at the U.S. embassy to learn about health-care challenges in the country.
Poverty and illiteracy are among the root problems, and malaria worsens them by overloading the health-care system and causing children to miss an average of 25 days of school a year. Angola has the second highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. Only 30 percent of the population has access to potable water and 60 percent of sanitary systems have been destroyed.
"Most of them, they live with at least two U.S. dollars a day," said United Methodist Bishop Gaspar Domingos of the Eastern Angola Conference. "Most of them, they don't care about how to protect against malaria because they want to eat."
Domingos said malaria is such a health problem that many Angolans contract it six or seven times a year.
Malaria has been brought under control and even eliminated in many parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas. Yet in Africa, with increasing drug resistance and struggling health systems, malaria infections have increased during the last three decades. The bed nets are a simple and cost-effective solution.
"On this trip, we learned the true importance of long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets," said McKee. "People are using the nets and stopping the mosquitoes that spread malaria. The real challenge is meeting the tremendous need for nets throughout Africa."
To send a net and save a life, visit Nothing But Nets (www.NothingButNets.net <http://www.NothingButNets.net> ) or United Methodist Communications (www.umcom.org). United Methodists also can give through their churches by designating their gift for Advance #982015.
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
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