Methodist Leaders Pledge to Tackle Malaria Scourge

Perhaps better than anyone, Methodist Bishop Joao Machado knows the horrors of malaria: He's not only witnessed thousands of children die from the mosquito-borne disease in his country of Mozambique, he's contracted it himself more than 85 times in his life.

"It's really difficult to talk about," Machado said, fighting off tears. "When we still see sick children dying every day."

It's no wonder, then, that Machado is joining a growing effort by faith leaders to stem malaria and other health conditions that disproportionately affect poor parts of the world. He and two other United Methodist Church leaders spoke at a press conference Monday afternoon on faith-based inititiatives at the TIME Global Health Conference in New York.

"I just want to say, what we need is education for people," Machado said, holding up a hand-crank radio as an example of how to reach poor people living in rural communities. "We can tell them how to prevent malaria."

Although no definitively effective medication or vaccine exists against malaria, the disease can be prevented through rigorous use of insecticide-treated bed nets and other simple techniques, like explaining to villagers how malaria is spread.

Encouraged by this, the Rev. R. Randy Day said that the United Methodist Church would be kicking off a malaria ministry in Sierra Leone in December. Initially, the church would hand out radios, bed nets and medicine to local communities.

The United Methodist Church already has trained more than 300 workers in community-based health care, and once the program is under way in Sierra Leone, Day hopes to expand it to other African nations, including Mozambique.

In addition, Pastor Rick Warren, author of the smash best-seller "The Purpose-Driven Life," said at the briefing that he has rallied thousands in his church to begin missionary-style work in foreign countries. The effort would be on healing, not proselytizing, he said.

"It's time for a group of leaders to say we're going to eradicate these diseases," Warren said.

Other faith-based efforts discussed at the summit included work done by the 35-denomination National Council of Churches and the American Jewish World Service. Leaders of both these groups stressed that saving lives should take precedence over any sort of missionary work.

This was praised by several African leaders in the audience, including Kenya's Minister of Health, Charity Kaluki Ngilu.

She said that, although some church organizations and the U.S. government sometimes let religious and political beliefs get in the way of saving lives, for the most part faith-based organizations have done what government couldn't.

"Faith-based initiatives have made the difference in my country. It's through you that we can reach the millions of people that governments can't," she said.

The Global Health Summit continues through Thursday.