Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Imagine No Malaria? Who Could Have Imagined…

Mbayo Ndala waits to see a doctor with her mother, Mimi Madika, at the United Methodist Church's Shungu Health Center in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many of the children seen at the clinic have malaria.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By Jim Fay, Wesley Church and Foundation of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.

The birth of the Imagine No Malaria campaign is well known. The United Methodist Church's efforts to fight malaria in Africa had partnered them with allies from the United Nations to the National Basketball Association, to Bill and Melinda Gates, to Islamic and Jewish charitable institutions. Those efforts were so successful The United Methodist Church decided to launch a $75 million campaign to eliminate malaria in Africa by 2015.

It should be understood that in many cases, malaria is only the tip of the iceberg. Malaria may be the most common reason people of Africa seek medical help, but dealing with chronic malaria also often entails dealing with a host of other problems: malnutrition, diarrhea, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, etc. Considering the vast array of problems the Imagine No Malaria project is addressing so effectively, perhaps, in retrospect, a more appropriate name for the project would be "Who Could Have Imagined…"

"Who Could Have Imagined…" that village-level training efforts addressing malaria would prove to be so doable and so successful that they affected everything from sustainable agriculture to economic development, to HIV prevention and treatment.

The Kamisamba United Methodist farm in the Democratic Republic of Congo offers an example of the Imagine No Malaria effort leaving its mark on a variety of other subjects. One of these subjects is the Moringa tree, which can be an enormously valuable resource to combat poverty and malnutrition. (From Wikipedia: "The leaves contain all essential amino acids and are rich in protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and minerals....The seed[s] ... is 61% protein…"). Learning to cultivate the Moringa tree is only a minor side effect of malaria prevention efforts. But it means that the people have better nutrition, farmers have products to sell, cows produce 50 percent more milk, children are able to return to school again, and on and on.

Another "Who Could Have Imagined…" story concerns the tilapia fish that currently is a very popular imported fish in America. One of the very modest strategies of the Imagine No Malaria effort is for the people to make certain any local stagnant water is stocked with fish that eat mosquito larvae. One such fish is the tilapia.  As a result, many ponds or marshes in Africa that used to raise malaria-carrying mosquitoes now raise tilapia, bound either for the market or local consumption.

But the "Who Could Have Imagined…" stories are not limited to villages in Africa. They come from the American mass media and major research institutions, too.

"Who Could Have Imagined…" that at this time when journalism seems to be limited to the loud and argumentative, a documentary about malaria narrated by Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame would not only be aired on NBC network stations but win several prestigious awards. The documentary is A Killer in the Dark, produced by United Methodist Communications and presented in conjunction with National Council of Churches and the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission.

"Who Could Have Imagined…" that after decades of disappointing efforts to develop an effective malaria vaccine, clinical tests of one vaccine seem to indicate that it is indeed the long sought-after breakthrough. Time magazine dubbed it the #2 medical breakthrough of 2011. It might be noted that a downside of this story is the cost per vaccine that is a real obstacle to the vaccine being used on a wide scale.

But then "Who Could Have Imagined…" that Texas A&M researchers would ever develop a milk goat genetically modified to carry a malaria vaccine in her milk. But they have. And they look forward to the day when vaccines and pharmaceuticals need not be produced in the lab at significant expense, but are instead produced by the “pharm animals” the people grow themselves.

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