Lutherans advocate for anti-malaria support in D.C.By Vicki Biggs
In Africa, a child dies of malaria every 60 seconds.
As part of the ongoing efforts of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) to reverse this statistic, leaders from the LCMS, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and Lutheran churches in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania converged in Washington, D.C., Nov. 27, to advocate for ongoing support of anti-malaria programming overseas.
The group conveyed three primary messages to Congress: requests for support of LMI's commitment to fight malaria in Africa; a pledge to make fighting malaria a foreign-policy priority; and the ongoing commitment to earmark $670 million in FY13 for U.S. bilateral malaria programs and support of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Joining LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and the Rev. Dr. John A. Nunes, president of Lutheran World Relief (LWR), in this effort were the Most Rev. Christian Ekong, president of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria; the Rev. John Halakhe, general secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya; Bishop Eliuphoo Sima with the Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania; and Rogath Lewis Mollel, general secretary, East of Lake Victoria Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, along with 14 staff members from the LCMS and LWR.
Harrison said the meetings provided an opportunity to inform congressional leaders about the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.
"This was a chance for our elected representatives to get to know the significant work the faith community is doing in Africa, and also for us to hear about the current appropriations process and challenges the government faces in continuing to support anti-malaria programs," Harrison said.
To accommodate 25 congressional visits, the Lutheran delegation divided into small groups. Meetings were held with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Colleen Bell, an aide to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., as well as with Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and legislative aides to three of the six LCMS members of Congress. The contingent also met with aides to members of Congress serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights; the Appropriations Committee; and House State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.
During the meetings, Ekong, Halakhe, Sima and Mollel told personal stories of the effects of malaria in their own lives, congregations and communities, and emphasized the importance of ongoing U.S. funding for accomplishing the goal of ending malaria deaths.
"Through LMI, dollars move to the grassroots level -- to the people who need it to fight malaria," Ekong said. "To get people to go for treatment, you have to know the people and their beliefs. You need to have their trust. The pulpit is very strong in Nigeria. Our churches are dependable and trusted. And our people know [that] these dollars are coming as the result of love. We thank the American people who care about us."
Since LMI was started in 2008, the child mortality rate from malaria in Africa has decreased by 50 percent. Stressing the need for ongoing support for anti-malaria work in Africa -- with the U.S. as one of the largest contributors -- Ekong said, "It is important for the U.S. government to continue supporting malaria so we don't fall backward on the successes we are seeing."
Together to win
Sima added, "I know that working together with the people of America, especially the Lutheran church in America, we will win this war against malaria -- and there will be no more malaria in my country."
Martha Mitkos, LMI campaign director for the LCMS, said the meetings were an important opportunity for LMI and the church's African partners to meet with U.S. lawmakers.
"Our partners came to share their personal stories of how malaria has affected the people of their countries, not only economically -- given the effects the disease has on increased health-care costs and lost productivity -- but also emotionally, given the tragic loss of life the disease [causes]," Mitkos said.
More than half the world's population is at risk for malaria. Nearly one million people die of the disease each year, and 90 percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease disproportionately affects pregnant mothers and children under age 5. Malaria costs Africa $12 billion annually in lost production. But malaria is preventable and treatable.
Nunes and Harrison thanked the members of Congress for taking the time to meet with the group.
"We were excited about meeting with folks who care to make a difference," Nunes said.
A reception billed as "Going the Distance to End Malaria" in the Dirksen Senate Office Building capped off the day's schedule of congressional appointments. Nunes; Halakhe; Sima; Elizabeth McKee Gore, vice-president of Global Partnerships at the United Nations Foundation; and Harrison addressed nearly 100 assembled guests, who included clergy, donors and congressional representatives.
"Thanks to everyone in this room, we have improved the child-mortality rate in Africa," Gore said. "Our partnership in this effort extends to the U.S. government and the faith-based community. Together, we are doing the work."
'The right thing to do'
Harrison, who mentioned the story of the Good Samaritan in his remarks, said, "This parable is about Jesus Himself seeing the world in need. We must become incarnate now and help our neighbor. We've got a long way to go, but it's the right thing to do."
LMI is a partnership of Lutheran World Relief and The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod to mobilize U.S. Lutherans in the global fight to eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. LMI utilizes a three-fold approach to fighting malaria: prevention, education and treatment. LMI is made possible through support from the United Nations Foundation.
To learn more about LMI, visit www.lcms.org/lmi.
Vicki Biggs is director, Integrated Communications, with LCMS Communications.
This article appeared in the January 2013 Reporter and was posted online Dec. 27, 2012