November 13, 2020 | ATLANTA
FOR RELEASE: IMMEDIATE
Dan Curran for Global Ministries
Mary Lou Greenwood Boice Director of Communications, Global Ministries
Working to positively impact the lives of women and children around the world, Abundant Health, The United Methodist Church’s global health initiative, has achieved and exceeded its goal of reaching 1 million children with lifesaving interventions by 2020. According to data reports, the United Methodist contribution to the global effort to end preventable deaths of newborns, children and adolescents reached 1,075,732 children as of October 2020.
Naomi Lebbie, a young woman from Southern Province, Sierra Leone, became a hardworking petty trader although her hope had been to be a teacher. Naomi married young and her first two babies died – one at the hands of a traditional birth attendant and the second she miscarried. It was during her third pregnancy that an outreach team from the Jaiama Health Center, a United Methodist facility focusing on maternal, newborn and child health, visited her village. She enrolled in its prenatal program and, when she developed complications, did not hesitate to stay there for care. A few weeks later, Naomi gave birth to a healthy son. “My dream of becoming a mother has come to reality,” she said.
Since the launch of the Abundant Health Initiative in 2017, United Methodist Global Ministries has invested over $26 million in 50 countries and mobilized millions in partner in-kind contributions, reaching over 1 million children and adolescents with health interventions in thousands of communities across Asia, Africa, North America and Central America. Data from around the world, collected monthly and evaluated each quarter, enables the Global Health unit to provide more comprehensive interventions in response to current challenges.
The United Methodist Church recognizes that every child is filled with promise and potential. Its mission to protect children from preventable causes of death and disease aligns with global efforts. As a sign of its commitment, Global Ministries joined the United Nations-sponsored Every Woman Every Child initiative originally designed to reach 16 million children by 2020. This initiative is supported by government, private sector, nonprofit and faith-based organizations who are committed to realizing healthier, more productive futures for children, their families and communities across the world.
Abundant Health focuses on five core areas impacting the health of children throughout the world: ensure safe births, address nutritional challenges, promote breastfeeding, advance prevention and treatment of childhood diseases and promote children’s health and wholeness.
“As United Methodists, we find care and concern for children rooted in our Social Principles, where we talk about putting children and their families first,” said Roland Fernandes, general secretary (chief executive) of United Methodist Global Ministries, the worldwide mission and development agency of the denomination. “Back in 2016, the General Conference affirmed that children have the right to food, shelter, clothing, health care and emotional well-being, as do adults, and these rights are theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians.
“Through Abundant Health, we are promoting the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health of children worldwide,” Fernandes continued. “The initiative’s name is derived from the Gospel of John 10:10: ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’ We are committed to living into our promise to children by imagining abundant health for every child in every place.”
“We go to places where there is no one else, where no one else wants to go,” Interim Global Health team lead and program manager for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health,” Kathleen Griffith said. “When I think of the impact of Abundant Health, I think of the women like Naomi who had a successful pregnancy, people who walk three hours to get to a clinic and the mothers who work so hard to bring their children for immunizations.”
She added, “What is inspiring to me about the Abundant Health Initiative is that so many more children are now more likely to survive their fifth birthday; more children are thriving through healthy meals, substance-use prevention and positive youth development programs. Our support has improved the quality of care for mothers and babies in some of the most challenged places in the world.
“Through the initiative, we help people learn that in order for a child to be healthy, it takes more than prescriptions, more than staff in a hospital,” Griffith said. ‘It takes a holistic community response.”
“Our assistance to improve provider capacity and strengthen health systems has helped revitalize UMC mission hospitals and clinics in many low-income countries,” noted Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, chair of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “Clearly, when we harness our efforts across the global UMC network, we make enormous progress toward our shared goals. Our continued success depends on unwavering commitment to effective, equitable and sustainable child health service delivery strategies so that children not only survive but also thrive as they grow into their adult life.”
Approved at the 2016 UMC General Conference, the initiative builds on the success of Imagine No Malaria, the United Methodist health initiative that significantly reduced the number of childhood deaths caused by malaria.
According to Global Ministries’ leaders, the motivation to launch the Abundant Health Initiative emerged in part from an extensive survey of people in 59 countries. Data showed that the top global health challenges are maternal and child health, water and sanitation, hunger and nutrition, and access to health care.
Global Ministries leaders are available upon request for interviews about Abundant Health.
Donations to support the program are being accepted at https://advance.umcmission.org/p-490-abundant-health.aspx.
About the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church
Global Ministries is the worldwide mission and development agency of The United Methodist Church. Founded in 1819, Global Ministries today supports more than 300 missionaries in over 70 countries, including the United States. It has personnel, projects, and partners in 115 countries. Learn more about Global Ministries by visiting www.umcmission.org or by following www.facebook.com/globalministries and twitter.com/umcmission.
The United Methodist Church’s Abundant Health Initiative is committed to reaching a million and more children with life-saving interventions, a goal set for the 2016-2020 quadrennium. This commitment is only possible through increasing health access and coverage for many thousands of community members within the reach of United Methodist congregations, health facilities and services. Reaching the most marginalized with healthcare is an issue of justice.
Access to health services is not always simple1
In Liberia, Mardea was carried for two hours in a hammock, during labor, to deliver her baby at Camphor clinic. In Central Congo, the construction crew at Dingele Maternity Center rushed a woman in labor with complications to the hospital in their truck. In Jalingo, Nigeria, the taxi union has been contracted to transport women with obstetric emergencies to UMC health facilities. In Nicaragua’s autonomous regions, a horse or motorboat are on standby.
But there are so many other places around the world where physical access to health care simply isn’t possible. Tragically, women and children die for lack of transport – a bus, a bicycle, a motorbike, a truck – or the money to pay for the service, the confidence or permission to take it, or, finally, the limitations of staff and services available on arrival at a health clinic.
Affordability is at the heart of the matter for many families. Payment for consultation fees or medicines brings about hardship. They must use rent money, miss meals, walk instead of ride, go into debt or lose a day’s income.
For Bhawana, affordability meant a walk of several hours with her husband and mother-in-law in the hills of Western Nepal. She had gone into labor and needed to reach her clinic as quickly as possible. On arrival, the examining nurse found complications that she was not equipped to help with and immediately referred the family to the district hospital. How would they pay for the transport and hospital fees?
It seemed an impossible and life-threatening situation until they realized they qualified, on the spot, for an interest-free loan from a fund created for such emergencies. This fund was initiated through a Global Health grant and, after discussion and agreement, received equal and ongoing contributions from the community and local government.
Health coverage and health access go hand in hand
Health coverage is the actual delivery and receipt of services, but many people are unwilling to seek services near their home because of the attitudes of health workers. True health coverage is access to health care providers themsleves and to quality care offered with dignity in clean facilities. Many women from lower social classes or those simply lacking resources have given birth in poorly equipped and staffed facilities without basic infrastrature, like water or a decent delivery bed, because of years of neglect.
Justice for these women has been realized through the UMC-supported revitalization of their health facilities to provide maternal, newborn and child health care, among other essential serives. Delivery rooms are equipped and medications are available. Health care workers in UMC health facilities are trainied to provide care with dignity, regardless of the indivudal’s background. In Ghana, pregnant women and patients prefer to travel for miles to access the Methodist Health Facilities: “We prefer to come to the Methodist clinic” they say “because God is there.” God is there through the compassion, love and the quality care they receive.
In the United States, there has been great fear linked to the COVID-19 pandemic – fear of infection and fear of passing infection to one’s unborn child. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the African American community, in particular.2 According to The National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, Black people are dying from COVID-19 at a rate 2.4 times higher than white people. This is due to higher rates of pre-existing health conditions, over-representation in frontline and essential worker jobs, unequal access to quality health care and insurance coverage and the greater likelihood of living in hyper-segregated neighborhoods. Systemic injustices impact minority communities in many detrimental ways, including the compromised heath of women and children.
A call for education
Sometimes, even when quality services exist and people have access to them, they still might not be utilized. People may not be aware that they have treatable conditions because their illnesses have become “normal” or have a spiritual or contextual diagnosis. Annual bouts of malaria can just be part of life and HIV may be pronounced a spiritual malady or punishment. People may not realize how their avoidance of health care impacts others, like untreated tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections, undiagnosed Ebola or COVID-19, hidden depression, alcoholism or anxiety. This calls for strengthening health education and the accompaniment of those with such conditions.
Some years ago, in Zambia, a young woman attending HIV awareness meetings conducted by a Global Ministries partner suddenly stood up and called for the group’s attention. She started by saying “I now know the witches who took my two daughters. Their names are HIV and AIDS!” She had never wanted to learn about the virus before because she had believed it was bewitchment. At the meeting, her mind and direction completely changed, and she went for testing and treatment. She now gives other women the testimony of her life – how she lost two daughters who were born HIV-positive because of her lack of knowledge, but that she now has a beautiful HIV-negative son.
Everyone deserves the best health care
Advocacy and funding for other foundational parts of our lives are also essential to personal, family and community health. For example, safe housing, clean drinking water, affordable fresh food, equal education and employment opportunities, affordable childcare and physical security improve the overall health of families and communities. Global Ministries has funded wells and latrines, small and large nutrition and agricultural projects, scholarships and livelihoods – all to address these underlying needs.
At the heart of The United Methodist Church’s Abundant Health Initiative is the desire to bring the best possible health services with the best possible outcomes to communities, and especially to women and children. Although beneficiaries are counted, the goal is not primarily reaching higher numbers. What’s important is offering quality health care with dignity and compassion, mostly to people who have been marginalized. Reaching them is an issue of Christian care and justice. We long for you to join us through your prayers, giving and by care for your community and the world.
Kathy Griffith is the Global Health team lead and program manager for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
The Abundant Health Initiative of The United Methodist Church supports mothers and children through teaching about pregnancy and child care, making improved services more accessible and available, and encouraging community participation. Confidence in this partnership leads to trust, empowerment and peace of mind. In communities from Nepal to Congo, where pregnant women’s and small children’s lives are at risk from everyday problems, let alone COVID-19, this connection is life-changing.
Finding local nutritious food
A partner in Nepal, the Nutrition Promotion and Consultancy Service, has implemented a childhood nutrition program in a difficult-to-reach mountainous area. They share practical information with the community through special events that bring women together to dance, sing, compete and learn about health. As a result, mothers are bringing their very small children for growth monitoring and nutritional assistance and breastfeeding their newborns longer, and supportive home visits are taking place. The field team gives food and cooking demonstrations to mothers’ groups in order to introduce local, affordable and nutritious variations into traditional recipes. After 12 months, most families are eating more balanced meals and community opinion leaders are discouraging the ever popular “junk food.”
Health services, healthy home
In rural Central Congo, women are taking advantage of the open doors of the health facility and ownership of new health knowledge. They understand the benefit of multiple prenatal visits, consent to tests, and request malaria-prevention medication and mosquito nets, which are no longer taboo. Services have been made more practical and helpful through mobile clinics and visits from Community Health Worker visits to screen children, village by village, for malnutrition. Kitchen and community gardens have been introduced, and some have had an opportunity to raise chickens. One of the most welcome interventions has been the drilling of two village wells. No more long walks for dirty water. Peace.
The health system in the autonomous region of Tashba Pri in Nicaragua relies heavily on community health workers. A partner, Accion Medica Cristiana (Christian Medical Action), works with community leaders and members to keep health data, particularly about pregnant women and children. They not only address health needs but also promote health through household water treatment, vegetable growing and the installation of smokeless stoves.
In Liberia, the nurse in charge of the clinic at Camphor assumed her post with very little midwifery experience. The community could easily have lost trust in the clinic’s capacity to provide care. Fortunately, the Abundant Health Initiative’s program officer began to mentor her. The nurse’s self-confidence grew, transforming her relationships with coworkers and patients. She became a better leader and manager. “I have learned to be patient and calm,” she said, and the work goes on. We celebrate her in the year of the nurse and midwife!
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has reduced attendance at many of these vital services. Health workers and community leaders continue to urge pregnant women and young children to seek treatment, deliver their babies at health facilities and breastfeed for as long as possible. They also teach and practice the new set of precautions that has come with the pandemic, not to spread panic, but to bring confidence and safety.
As knowledge, respect and autonomy increase through health partnerships in these countries and more around the world, we pray for continued peace of mind for mothers and children.
To support the work of Abundant Health, give to Advance #3021770.