By Moses Magadza in Windhoek
Bishop Luke Lungile Pato of the Anglican Diocese of Namibia says leaders of the faith community can play an important role in supporting efforts to eliminate malaria because of their close connection with people at grassroots level.
“It is important for faith leaders and churches be involved in combating malaria. Churches are present in communities. They are trusted, respected and active everywhere. Churches extend the reach of existing national services and can use their experiential knowledge of the local context to identify and take action against the specific local drivers of malaria,” the Bishop said.
Pato is one of four southern African Anglican bishops who have declared war on malaria which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says still kills approximately 445 000 people globally annually. More than 90 percent of these deaths occur in Africa. Children form a significant percentage of people who die of malaria in Africa.
The other bishops are Archbishop Albert Chama, archbishop of Central Africa; Bishop Cleopha Lunga of the Diocese of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe; Bishop David Njovu of the Diocese of Lusaka in Zambia; and Bishop Andre Soares of the Diocese of Angola.
Towards the end of last year Pato and his fellow bishops visited the United States of America to drum up support for efforts to rid the region of malaria.
“There are many players who grapple with other diseases such as AIDS pandemic and tuberculosis (TB). Very few people have committed to eliminating malaria. Yet interventions to eliminate malaria require joint efforts. Together we can eliminate malaria for good,” Pato said.
Sustainable Development Goal Number Three focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all people and in a recent interview, Pato said churches could not sit idly by while malaria ravaged their congregants.
“Malaria kills if it is not diagnosed and treated early. A large part of the population in the Diocese of Namibia live in northern Namibia where many cases of malaria have been reported especially in the Kavango region,” he said.
On what role church leaders can play, Pato highlighted creating awareness about the dangers of malaria, dismissing myths and encouraging people to seek treatment where necessary.
“We can help train nurses and volunteers to conduct rapid diagnostic tests and to distribute mosquito nets, especially in remote inaccessible areas.”
The Bishop said the Diocese of Namibia had done a lot with several partners as it walks the talk on combating malaria in the country.
“The diocese recently distributed 6500 mosquito nets to communities and hospitals especially in Omusati and Ohangwena regions. Our key partner is the Ministry of Health and Social Services in those regions. Our main donor partner is the J.C. Flowers Foundation from New York.”
On the recent trip to the USA, Pato said the objective was to motivate those with influence in decision making in the US “to triple efforts in financing the fight against malaria”.
He said mosquitoes are developing resistance to insecticides and malaria parasites are developing resistance to existing treatment.
Pato said while in the USA the bishops met five Senators individually. His assessment is that all the Senators they met were in favour of influencing the Government of the USA to significantly increase its financial contribution towards the Global Fund Project.
“The USA has been the biggest contributor towards this fund and its contribution has influenced other countries in the past. The Global Fund Project supports Sustainable Development Goal Three which strives to ensure healthy lives and promote the wellbeing for all people. The goal is to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, waterborne diseases and other communicable diseases. The Senators assured us of their support,” he explained.
On how the financial support that the bishops have been canvassing would be used, Pato said the funds would not go to the Anglican Church but to respective governments in which the bishops reside.
“The churches partner with the health ministries to access funding. Our visit was sponsored by the J.C Flowers Foundation which is committed to work with the churches in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Pato said that the diocese of Namibia had a cross-border agreement with Angola to bolster efforts to eliminate malaria.
“This agreement recognises that malaria knows no borders.”
He said between 1 may 2017 AND 30TH September 2018 and working with Angola, the Namibian Diocese supported the training of 35 nurses (26 Angolan, 9 Namibian), training of 14 Outreach officers in Angola and training of four Environmental Health officials in Namibia.
“Additionally 600 community volunteers were trained and are actively working in communities. Of these, 500 are Angolan while 100 are Namibian. A total of 58,789 malaria tests were conducted in Namibia. In all, 4,836 people tested positive for malaria,” Pato revealed.
Noting that responding to public health challenges becomes difficult when stakeholders work in silos, Pato said national efforts to combat malaria in Namibia were well co-ordinated.
“As the diocese we have a healthy working relationship with the Ministry of Health and Social Services both nationally and regionally. We observe the World Malaria Day together. This year we had Health Ministers from SADC and we met in Kavango Region which is a malaria hot spot.”
He said in rallying behind efforts to end malaria, the Anglican Church was responding to God’s calling.
“Our mission is to save lives and to fulfill Jesus’ words: “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance”,” he said. – Moses Magadza