A boy cares for his sister in Fulawahun village near Bo, Sierra Leone.
Abundant Health for All: A Vision for Global Health
by Olusimbo Ige
The idea that human health involves not only the physical well-being of people but also their emotional and spiritual well-being has long been an intimate part of what Methodists have preached, lived, and created in communities around the world. As part of Methodist mission’s historical tradition, missionaries were sent out to spread the gospel by building churches, clinics, and schools. Some of the earliest American missionaries were preachers and doctors, teachers and nurses—often the same men and women trained in both professions, doubling in their roles at the early mission stations. So it follows that health has also been an integral part of the General Board of Global Ministries and its predecessor mission organizations throughout its history.
Most recently, after being folded into the United Methodist Committee on Relief for several years, the work of global health has re-emerged as a separate unit of Global Ministries, partly in response to a great enthusiasm within the church for the Imagine No Malaria Campaign (INM)—a coordinated international effort to wipe out a disease that can be prevented but still kills hundreds of thousands of people annually, especially in Africa. This major fundraising campaign, with a goal of $75 million, grew out of foundations laid by the Nothing But Nets public appeal. INM donations have provided mosquito nets and other services in affected areas. To maximize the effort, about 51 percent of the funds raised go to the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The remainder is expended by Global Ministries in collaboration with its health facilities and annual conferences in Africa, facilitated initially through UMCOR and, more recently, by the new Global Health unit.
The malaria work led to a palpable United Methodist desire to “do more” in the realm of health—abundant life, to use Jesus’ term in John 10. Then, in 2014, the Council of Bishops confirmed the assignment of the denomination’s health focus area to Global Ministries. The new Global Health unit is composed of existing health-related ministries and new initiatives.
Global Ministries’ vision of abundant health for all focuses on efforts to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The Global Health unit therefore aims to create abundant health in economically vulnerable communities by protecting children and disadvantaged adults from preventable causes of death and disease. To achieve this, Global Health will enable the church to partner with thousands of communities and health workers through its community- based health programs, while also supporting more than 300 United Methodist hospitals and clinics around the world.
Global Health Objectives
The Global Health unit aims to meet three major objectives as part of its work. First—scale up existing programs on community health education, how and when to seek care, and using the health services that are available. Second—increase coverage of health interventions for the people who are most at risk for disease and early death. Interventions might include activities like the promotion of breastfeeding and use of mosquito nets; the importance of immunization and oral rehydration therapy; seeking treatment for malaria; and the use of antibiotics for treating pneumonia. Third—improve the quality and scale of health-care services offered through UMC hospitals and clinics. This work would seek to ensure the availability of diagnostic and sterilization equipment, drugs and essential supplies, safe water supply and waste disposal to prevent infection, surgical supplies, as well as improving treatment facilities.
In order to meet these specified goals, Global Health focuses its work around some key activities. It provides technical support through personal and institutional capacity building. This area of work equips faith communities and their leaders for full participation in efforts to transform health and health care in their communities.
In cooperation with its mission partners, Global Health employs a holistic approach to address the ongoing health needs in the most at-risk populations—those living with persistent poverty in unhealthy conditions with little access to health care. The unit also helps local churches, districts, and annual conferences to develop and sustain ministries of health, healing, and wholeness.
Weakened Health Systems
The devastation caused by Ebola in West Africa was unanticipated when it first emerged in March 2014. Ebola went undetected in Guinea for three months, allowing the disease to disseminate across the borders of Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing 11,000 people over the course of the outbreak.
Several factors contributed to the rapid spread of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A shortage of healthcare workers, inadequate health infrastructure, and ineffective disease surveillance systems all played significant roles. Recovering from several years of war and destruction, the weak health systems and infrastructure were not prepared to deal with an outbreak of this magnitude.
The World Health Organization has identified six core components essential for a strong health system on which the United Methodist health boards in Liberia and Sierra Leone are focusing their programs: relationship and integration with government resources; drug and vaccine availability and delivery; maintaining the quality of service; sustainable financing; human resources; and data and information collection.
Resilient health systems require strong leadership to ensure the integrity of the health system. In many countries, the government is responsible for the central leadership of the health system, but the government does not act alone. The Liberia Annual Conference is a major partner with the government in its quest to provide quality health and social services. The Liberia United Methodist Health Board recognized a gap in governance and fiscal leadership, hired a highly skilled administrator to oversee Ganta Hospital, and trained administrative committees at all five of its health facilities. The Liberia Health Board has reshaped the governance structure of its health system, and in turn, has become a much stronger contributor to the national health system.
Among the many devastating effects of Ebola was the widespread disruption of essential health interventions—such as vaccinations and malaria preventative care and treatment. The Sierra Leone Health Board focused its efforts in community outreach on malaria diagnosis, prevention, and treatment interventions. An Imagine No Malaria grant provided the essential medications and supplies needed for their community activities.
Abundant Health for All: Our Promise to Children
I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b)
The United Methodist Church, with Global Ministries as a lead operational agency, has played an active role in the international campaign to eradicate malaria. In five years, United Methodists have donated $68 million to fight malaria. Together we have made amazing progress toward ending needless suffering from this preventable disease: 1.9 million nets have been distributed, 11,600 health workers have received training, 134 health facilities have received diagnostic kits and drugs, and 24 health centers have been revitalized to provide care in underserved communities in Africa. This signature health effort will be brought to culmination in May 2016 at General Conference. But this will not be the end… it will be a new beginning.
Building on the successes of Imagine No Malaria (INM), Global Health will expand into a holistic new signature health campaign entitled: “Abundant Health for All: Our Promise to Children.” Our promise is to reach 1 million children with lifesaving interventions by 2020. Our goal is to reduce child morbidity and mortality from preventable causes by empowering households, promoting comprehensive community-based programming, and providing quality health-service delivery for children under five in the most vulnerable communities.
Every child is filled with promise and potential. Yet every minute, 12 more children die from preventable causes.
Our promise as a church is to
- Promote safe births for mothers;
- Address nutritional challenges and promote breastfeeding;
- Advance prevention of and treatment for childhood diseases; and
- Promote children’s health and wholeness, increasing access to treatment.
New Projects in Mozambique and Liberia
The Global Health unit has already begun building on the work of INM through Maternal and Child Health pilot projects in collaboration with UMC annual conference health boards in Liberia and Mozambique. In both locations, these pilot projects are looking to build community-based programming that encourages women to make at least four prenatal care visits, give birth at the health facility, and attend infant welfare clinics after their children are born. Each mom and baby enrolled in the program will receive follow-ups by hospital staff and community health workers. Moms will receive information about immunizations, water and sanitation, nutrition, and breastfeeding. This model will allow for the creation of holistic and community-driven health and wholeness.
High maternal and neonatal mortality rates plague women throughout Mozambique. Yet, many of these deaths could be prevented if women and their children had better access to health care. The Mozambique Ministry of Health cites three main obstacles as the primary causes for maternal and neonatal mortality: delays in seeking prenatal care, the inability to reach a clinic or hospital for delivery, and waiting too long to seek treatment for disease.
To help address these issues, The United Methodist Church’s Mozambique Episcopal Area Health Board will be among the first sites to pilot a new Maternal and Child Health project. A grant will empower the conference to focus on pregnant women and children under two years of age living in marginalized and underserved communities. Core activities will include encouraging women to use prenatal care services, providing services for safe births at the Cambine Clinic in Chicuque, and promoting breastfeeding and better nutrition for babies. In addition, community members will be encouraged to seek early treatment for—and learn ways to prevent—priority childhood illnesses, such as diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. Operating out of the Cambine Mission Station, the project will provide services for 13 villages with a population of about 16,250 people, including an estimated 3,250 women of childbearing age and 813 pregnant women.
Dr. Olusimbo Ige, a medical doctor and layperson, serves as the executive director of Global Health. Originally from Nigeria, she has worked with the World Health Organization and USAID. Her medical specialty is public health. Mary Zigbuo and Allen Zomonway provided information on behalf of the Liberia Health Board. Henrietta Labor submitted information on behalf of the Sierra Leone Health Board.
Left-to-Right Frequent hand-washing has become the norm in Côte d’Ivoire as church and public health officials raise warnings about the Ebola virus. Photo: Mike Dubose/UMNS;
Nets being delivered to communities in Malawi Photo: Malawi UM Health Board;
A laboratory technician sorts medical sample containers at the United Methodist Church’s Kissy Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: Mike Dubose/UMNS;
Technician Ouli Nda prepares a sample for testing in the laboratory at Dabou Methodist Hospital in Dabou, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: Mike Dubose/UMNS
Health worker Juliana Koroma (right) takes a blood sample from Issata Jusu for a malaria test at the Koribondo Community Health Center near Bo, Sierra Leone. Holding the child is her mother, Umu Koroma. At rear is health worker Ishmael Karoma.Photo: Mike Dubose/UMNS
Comfort Beah (right), a maternal and child health aid at the United Methodist Church’s Mercy Hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone, takes vital signs from Adama Johnbull, who arrived at the hospital with pregnancy complications, including malaria. Photo: Mike Dubose/UMNS
A brass band and marching school children lead a parade through downtown Bo, Sierra Leone, during the kickoff for the national Maternal and Child Health Week. The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign distributed 350,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets as part of the integrated health campaign. Photo: Mike DuBose/UMNS
Rose Ombaku, a Global Mission Fellow from the DR Congo, holds a workshop on health concerns for youth as part of a mobile clinic from Chicuque’s Center of Hope in Mozambique. Photo: Courtesy Rose Ombaku