Empowering UMC and Ebola Prevention: A Message from Democratic Republic of the Congo

By Megan Klingler

In 1976, along the Ebola River, in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a rare and deadly virus was first identified. The Ebola virus, named for the river near its discovery, has since led to multiple outbreaks across several African countries, Europe and even the United States of America. The exact origin of the Ebola virus is unknown; however, it is believed to be an animal-borne disease and harbored in bats. The bats carrying the virus can then transmit to other animals like monkeys, deer and humans. After the transfer to a human, the Ebola virus can easily spread from person to person.

Megan Klingler demonstrating the appropriate way to remove an Ebola protective suit. Photo: Courtesy of Global Health unit

Ebola virus disease, or EVD, is typically spread by love, care and compassion for a sick person. Often healthcare workers, clergy and family members of those that are sick are at the highest risk of being infected. EVD is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids or through contact with objects that are contaminated with infected body fluids. It can be spread from a person who is sick with EVD, from the corpse of a person that died of EVD, contact with an animal with EVD or from breast milk or unprotected sexual contact with a recent EVD survivor. 

A public health emergency

On August 1, 2018, the DRC announced a cluster of Ebola cases discovered in the North Kivu province in the East Congo Episcopal Area, marking DRC’s tenth Ebola outbreak since 1976. Unlike previous Ebola outbreaks in the DRC that were contained to remote areas, the spread to urban centers and the increased mobility of people caused this outbreak to easily spread.

Photo: Courtesy of Global Health unit

On July 17, 2019, almost one full year later, Ebola reached Goma, a busy DRC border city with an estimated two million people and an international airport. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced this outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern.” The outbreak was not only a threat to the neighboring countries, but to the world, and had grown to be the world’s second largest Ebola epidemic on record with more than 2,400 cases.

Shortly after the WHO announcement, Bishop Unda of the East Congo Episcopal Area requested assistance from the General Board of Global Ministries. Within 24 hours, Dr. Damas Lushima, the East Congo Health Board coordinator, received a protocol from the Global Health unit on actions to reduce exposure to the Ebola virus developed by the WHO, the African Union, the Liberian government and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015. It also contained practical recommendations to screen, isolate and refer potential Ebola cases.  

Visiting Congo 

Megan Klingler, Global Ministries’ Global Health unit’s primary health care specialist, volunteered to offer technical assistance and support to the East Congo Health Board’s Ebola response. Klingler, a public health nurse, had previous experience as a team leader for Ebola responses in Nigeria and Sierra Leone and worked for the CDC as a course facilitator for U.S. healthcare workers going to Ebola zones.

Klingler using Glo Germ during an hands-on activity to demonstrate the importance of hand-washing. Photo: Courtesy of Global Health unit

Klingler’s trip objectives were to empower the East Congo Health Board’s members with the knowledge and expertise to disseminate information on Ebola prevention among UMC health facilities, communities and churches. The first training was conducted fully by Klingler and for subsequent trainings, the East Congo Health Board slowly took over the curriculum.

Trainings were held for members of the UMC healthcare staff, church clergy and lay leaders. The topics included “Ebola Signs and Symptoms,” “Ebola Myths and Facts,” “Screen, Isolate, Refer”, and “Infection, Prevention and Control.”  

Dr. Damas Lushima, East Congo Health Board Coordinator demonstrating the proper way to check body temperature. Photo: Courtesy of Global Health unit

Ebola Initiative 

For 24 days, the team traveled throughout East Congo by road, boat and plane and worked all day from early morning to late night. Despite the many obstacles like bad roads, a cancelled flight, denied visas, and the car breaking down, the team stayed strong and determined to reach all sites and provide the training promised by Bishop Unda’s team.  

The trainings were held in five cities: Goma, Beni, Bukavu, Uvari and Kisangani, and directly reached over 360 participants. The presentations were mostly interactive, with hands on exercises and case studies. Due to working with medical professionals and clergy, the topics were tailored to each attendee’s role and were presented in multiple languages to ensure full understanding. Pre-tests and post-tests were administered at most trainings. The average starting score was less than 30 percent and the average final score after training was at about 90 percent, demonstrating a large gain in knowledge.

The true number of beneficiaries of these trainings is unknown and expanding daily. At a church service in Goma that followed the Clergy and Lay Leaders training, the pastor used his leadership position to speak on the importance of proper hand hygiene and demonstrated how to wash your hands correctly to the congregation, encouraging all to follow him. The bishop’s wife and Maternal Neonatal Child Health Coordinator, Dr. Marie Claire, visited a UMC orphanage in Goma where the orphans were taught how to wash their hands. Examples of the tear down effect were demonstrated multiple times throughout the trip. And even when the team’s car got a flat tire, the Congolese soldiers that surrounded the car were taught about Ebola, the importance of hand hygiene and were encouraged to discuss myths they had heard about Ebola.

Ebola updates

As of September 28, 2019, the DRC Ministry of Health reported a total of 3,188 Ebola cases, including 2,129 deaths. Although this is not positive news, there may soon be more relief. A second Ebola vaccine is coming to DRC. The outcome of the first Ebola vaccine has been very positive, but the quantities have been low. The hope is that with this new vaccine, more people can be reached.  

Additionally, in early August before the trainings took place, two experimental treatments were found to be up to 90 percent effective in treating Ebola when used early in the sickness. This is an additional reason in why the UMC trainings were so important: the trainings not only demonstrated how to prevent contracting Ebola, but how to identify and educate the community to seek medical help in the face of emerging Ebola symptoms.

Next steps and moving forward

With the Bishop’s support and presence, the East Congo Health Board has conducted additional Ebola prevention trainings in Kindu following Klingler’s departure. This demonstrates the success of the trainings and determination of the East Congo Health Board and church leadership to spread the knowledge of prevention to their community in which they serve.

Megan Klingler is the Global Health unit’s primary health care specialist.

Imagine No Malaria: Promoting Abundant Health for All

By Tatenda Mujeni

Just over 10 years ago, United Methodists globally decided to take on an audacious goal of imagining a world without malaria, leading one of the largest commitments by a faith-based organization to end the disease. Our faith was literally put into action as we distributed millions of mosquito nets, tests and malaria medications to prevent and treat for malaria. Thousands of community volunteers and health facility workers received training in malaria prevention and treatment. We also revitalized their places of work by renovating health facilities throughout Africa. 

Child in Mozambique receiving ACT (anti-malaria Drug). Photo: Courtesy of Global Health unit

At General Conference 2016, The United Methodist Church celebrated these successes of the Imagine No Malaria campaign. There was much to be celebrated. Through the support of our generous donors and the tireless efforts of our partners on the ground, United Methodists significantly contributed toward a global effort to control and end malaria. 

Although we have made great strides in the communities we work in, the fight to end the disease is far from over. After years of steady decline in malaria infections, there was a global surge of the disease in 2016. Each year, over 200 million people are infected by malaria leading, to more than 400,000 deaths from this preventable disease.

Bishop Lunge of Central Congo passing out mosquito nets. Photo: Courtesy of Global Health unit

What next?

What happens beyond Imagine No Malaria? The simple answer is: we continue our efforts until we reach our goal of imagining a world with no malaria. 

As we celebrated the end of active fundraising of the INM program in 2016, the denomination was introduced to Abundant Health for All as the health focus for the next quadrennium. Through the Abundant Health initiative, United Methodists take a holistic approach towards health, focusing on mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Globally, through the commitment to Every Woman Every Child, the Abundant Health program aims to reach one million children with life-saving interventions by 2020 and reaching millions more beyond that date. Malaria is still one of the leading causes for disease and death in children under five. Preventing and controlling malaria is therefore promoting abundant health in this vulnerable population.

Health worker in DRC South Congo promoting intermittent preventative therapy in pregnancy (IPTp) malaria prophylaxis. Photo: Courtesy of Global Health unit

Over the past three years, the INM program has contributed to the abundant health goal of reaching one million children with life-saving interventions through ongoing facility-based prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria. In over 200 UMC health facilities throughout Africa, we ensure that all pregnant women receive life-saving malaria prophylaxis and mosquito nets to prevent malaria and the adverse effects of the disease during pregancy. We also ensure that every child under five that attends a UMC health facility receives a mosquito net to prevent the disease and ensure timely diagnosis and treatment if they have malaria. Through supporting and promoting Abundant Health for All, we are moving closer towards our dream of imagining a world with no malaria.

Tatenda Mujeni is the Global Health Malaria program manager. 


Inviting Deaf and Hard of Hearing People to Church – Deaf Awareness Week

By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.

Deaf Awareness Week is soon approaching, and United Methodist churches should extend their hand of welcome to Deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind persons in their community. This week is observed during the last week of September (in 2019, the 23-29th), beginning on Monday and ending on Sunday. Deaf Awareness Week originated in Rome, Italy in 1958 through the efforts of The World Federation of the Deaf. Deaf communities around the world began adopting this international observance as a way to honor the history and heritage of Deaf and hard of hearing people, affirm diversity, to educate society about deafness, and celebrate Deaf culture.

 Historically, Deaf ministries have been an extension of their Deaf community, in part, due to their support of Deaf education and mission. For instance, during the mid-nineteenth century, The Episcopal Church ordained its first Deaf deacon in the U.S. The Methodist Church was the fourth denomination to have a Deaf pastor to serve a Deaf congregation in Chicago, which was close to the turn of the 20th century. Click here for a brief outline of Deaf Christian history and click here for a more comprehensive account. 

Photo courtesy of The UMC Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries

Communication barriers and cultural differences often exclude Deaf and hard of hearing persons from the life of the church. For example, when this writer’s Deaf parents moved from Maryland to Virginia, the fourth church that was contacted agreed to provide a sign language interpreter. Recently, a Deaf couple in the Southeastern Jurisdiction shared they are only able to worship twice a month because their church is unable to afford a sign language interpreter on a weekly basis. In most cases, there is a cost for sign language interpreters. While it’s the church’s responsibility to hire and pay for interpreters, most Deaf and hard-of-hearing people donate to their congregation, and thus support the cost indirectly (click here for a brief guide about interpreters). One Deaf ministry holds an annual fundraiser to support their interpreting ministry. Certainly, budgeting and prioritizing the Deaf ministry is vital to sustaining it. So is awareness; a cultural difference can be seen during a Christmas Eve service when lights are dimmed and candles used. This makes it challenging to see a sign language interpreter.

The Apostle Paul emphasized to the church in Corinth (and us) that the body of Christ needs all of its members (1 Cor 12:12-31). Like other denominations, The United Methodist Church recognizes the need for Deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind individuals to be better represented in the life of the church. General Conference continues to support funding for Deaf ministries. This funding is overseen by Global Ministries, which includes small grants to support new Deaf ministries. 

Deaf Awareness Week is a strong reminder for churches to be accessible and inviting for Deaf and hard of hearing people. For example, offer captioning (display it on a TV screen or project it with PowerPoint), have all-encompassing bulletins (Scriptures, prayers, announcements, music), use multimedia (Deaf people can’t hold hymnals while signing), ensure adequate lighting, and consistently use a sound system during worship: all of these are inexpensive ways to improve accessibility. Click here for more ideas. After all, 1 in 3 persons over 65 have some degree of hearing loss and improving communication access in worship and in the life of the church can support hard-of-hearing and late-deafened people to remain active, some of whom are the bigger givers.

So, how can your church observe Deaf Awareness Week?

As a part of its Disability Ministries, Emmanuel UMC in Laurel, MD, is observing Deaf awareness by offering a month-long sign language class, has a sign language interpreter on most Sundays, uses multimedia, and will include Deaf awareness in its announcements. For activities and ideas, check out the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries Committee’s Deaf Awareness Weekweb page. For general information about Deaf Awareness Week, click here. For a series of brief guides and congregational resources, click here

Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. is the consultant for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries Committee.

Shade and Fresh Water encourages youth in Brazil to make healthy choices

Having a place to hang out with good friends in a supportive community that provides fun and creative activities is a universal best practice for helping youth find meaning and purpose. Global Ministries’ Global Health unit takes a keen interest in partnering with organizations that help children and youth maintain good health and avoid the temptations that unhealthy environments foster.

Celebrations at a Shade and Freshwater Christmas party in São Gabriel, Brazil. Photo: Mark Greathouse

The Shade and Fresh Water project, a ministry of the Methodist Church in Brazil, has provided afterschool programming for children for more than 18 years. Across the country through churches in over 50 locations, Shade and Fresh Water reaches 2570 children and youth. “Our mission is to form a large Methodist network of support and protection for children and adolescents,” the mission asserts. Brazilian Methodists support this mission ministry with more than 2000 volunteers from their congregations and the communities they serve.

Partnering with Global Health in 2019-2020, Shade and Fresh Water plans to improve a project in the Northeast Region (Methodist Conference) of Brazil and another in Rio de Janeiro, increasing the consistency and quality of the programming and contributing to positive development opportunities for youth in Brazil’s poorest communities.

A place to grow in positive ways

Shade and Fresh Water grew out of the work of the Methodist Community Center in São Gabriel, an older ministry based in Belo Horizonte. Gordon and Teca Greathouse served there for much of their 40-year missionary careers and continue serving in the city of Belo Horizonte in retirement. Before the church expanded the afterschool and children’s education work to create Shade and Fresh Water in 2000, the São Gabriel Methodist Community Center served as a place where children with nowhere to play but the streets could come in for acceptance and affection, engage in sports, arts and music and experience a place of Christian welcome and care. 

Youth from Shade and Freshwater programs in Brazil perform at the 2016 General Assembly of the Methodist Church in Brazil. Photo: Courtesy Shade and Fresh Water

Over the past two years, Shade and Fresh Water has scaled up its services to include programs for youth ages 15-18. This new level of programming, in partnership with Global Health, provides healthy alternatives for older teens as they try to discern who they are and what they want to do with their lives. 

Vinicius Guimarães dos Santos started attending Shade and Fresh Water when he was 6 years old. His mother searched for a place that could keep her son safe after school while she and his father were still at work. 

Music was what attracted dos Santos to the afterschool program. But once he was there, he says he learned discipline and self-esteem too. His talent and hard work eventually earned him the opportunity to represent Shade and Fresh Water with a group of children that traveled to the U.S. to perform at the Virginia Annual Conference. Dos Santos had never traveled in an airplane and was overwhelmed by the way he was received.

Until recently, children aged out of Shade and Fresh Water when they turned 15, but dos Santos stayed on as a volunteer. Eventually, he received a scholarship to study the flute. Today at age 23, he works as an educator with the program and is involved in the expansion to reach older teens. “Kids need programs that support them and help them discover who they are,” says dos Santos. “Without that, many get lost and people lead them in the wrong way.”

Dos Santos feels that music teaches youth confidence and pride in themselves. “Kids often get involved in drugs because it makes them think they are the big guys on their street. But music is a better alternative. They can feel pride without the drugs.”

Becoming citizens in the greater community

Taynara (left), who attends the Shade and Fresh Water project in Liberdade, is thinking about becoming a doctor and a police office to keep her community safe and healthy. Photo: Mark Greathouse

Shade and Fresh Water builds curriculum around seven different areas of programming for children and youth. The core curriculum includes Christian education, support for academic education, and sports and recreational activities. These three activities are required in all official Shade and Fresh Water projects. Complementary curriculum includes citizenship; culture, music and the arts; holistic health; and technology, mainly computer literacy and access. 

While many church-related programs cover the same bases, citizenship is a unique Brazilian choice for children’s programming. Shade and Fresh Water describes citizenship as: “the ability to assert our rights and values and act in accordance with our duties. Working with citizenship in Shade and Fresh Water is directed toward the development of values and attitudes that promote creative ability and critical thinking.” The goal is to help children and adolescents in their quest to improve their living conditions, learn to make decisions, build healthy relationships and recognize themselves as active subjects and participants within their social group. Basically, this curriculum is teaching children to work together to change the world.

For 9-year-old Thaynara, this kind of curriculum has encouraged her to set high goals: “My plan to make our country better is to not throw trash in the streets and to make sure people are safe. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor and a police officer. My friends tell me I am crazy, but I would be fulfilling my dreams, right? The project has taught me songs, parties, and the word of God. Before I didn’t really like to go to church, but now I go almost every day.”

Saving the planet, keeping people safe and healthy, songs, parties, the word of God and a strong faith community – Shade and Fresh Water for Thaynara. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Christie R. House is the senior writer/editor for Global Ministries.

Abundant Health includes mental health in worldwide ministry and outreach

In Clarksville, Texas, a town of 3,000 residents, the school district has lost more than half its enrollment in the last decade as more middle-class residents opt out of the local school system for better-resourced facilities in other counties. The Clarksville School District, down to 500 students who are generally from low-income ethnic minority families, struggled to compete for Texas state education funds, which are tied to enrollment numbers. The district had no licensed counselor to cover students in all grade levels. At a Clarksville elementary school, Teddy’s* grandmother was concerned about his sometimes violent, disruptive behavior. “His negative thoughts prevent him from paying attention to the teacher because he thinks, ‘I’m going to fail anyway,’” she stated. Can the United Methodist Abundant Health Initiative help someone like Teddy?

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Supporting mothers and babies for a healthy start

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated during the first week of August each year. The United Methodist Abundant Health Initiative supports mothers in their decision to breastfeed as a vital and practical way to give babies a good start in life. Other ways to help newborn survival rates include ensuring access to health care and supporting mothers’ groups in which women help one another. Abundant Health workers in many places around the world seek to create the right conditions for mothers and babies to thrive from the start. Education starts in the community when volunteers talk to their neighbors and continues for mothers and their children with every prenatal and postnatal visit.

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Community Health Workers: United Methodist Agents of Change

 

United Methodist Volunteers, also known as Community Health Workers, are women and men of all ages living in difficult-to-reach places. These frontline workers are trusted community members, having an in-depth understanding of the community they serve. They are also blessed with patience and compassion to alleviate complex medical and social needs.

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Meeting health needs in Mozambique

By Christie R. House*

When missionaries David and Elizabeth McCormick first arrived in Maxixe, Mozambique, to begin work with Chicuque Rural Hospital, the hospital was straining to meet the needs of its patients. The grounds, buildings, and even some medical equipment and medicines had extensive damage from Cyclone Dineo in 2016. David McCormick took over as the hospital administrator, working with the United Methodist Health Board of the Mozambique Episcopal Area.

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Baby by baby – treating and preventing malnutrition in Central Congo

By Christie R. House*

Traveling to any of the three United Methodist clinics in the northern Kasai region of the Central Congo Episcopal Area that are part of the Abundant Health Initiative can be challenging. The lack of main roads into the area means international Methodist visitors fly into Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A regional flight can get them as far as Kananga. Then, they rely on the Central Congo missionary pilot, Jacques Umembudi, to take them farther. Diengenga, the largest of the clinics, is not on a Google map, but Captain Umembudi knows the way.

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Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality

Dec. 3, 2018—Today, the International Day of People with Disabilities, Global Ministries joins with organizations around the world to promote awareness of the challenges people with disabilities face, and the responsibility that communities and the church have to remove barriers to social inclusion. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 billion people, or 10 percent of the world’s population, live with a disability.

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