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Church's efforts fortify battle against malaria

Disease kills thousands each year; speaker from Rwanda will highlight Sunday service

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To grow up in Rwanda is to know the ravages of malaria.

"My country to this date is a 100-percent malaria zone, every inch," Claudine Leary said last week. "We all had malaria in my family except my father. My mother gets it every year, my brothers. I got it when I was finishing high school. It killed some little people in my village I knew personally.

"You find a family going to a funeral 15 times a year or more, and in between is the hospital time."

Leary, who June 10 was commissioned a provisional elder in the United Methodist Church, West Ohio Conference, will speak during the 8:30 and 10 a.m. services Sunday, July 20, at Maple Grove United Methodist Church, 7 W. Henderson Road.

The services are open to anyone, said Maple Grove lay leader William L. Tenney.

Leary will share her story about malaria in her homeland with members of the congregation to help bring greater awareness to the ongoing United Methodist Church effort to eradicate the disease worldwide.

The campaign, in partnership with the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is known as Imagine No Malaria.

The four-year-old program, which grew out of the earlier Nothing But Nets project to help halt the spread of the mosquito-borne disease in sub-Saharan Africa, has cut the death rate in half, from one every 30 seconds to one every 60 seconds, Tenney said.

Imagine No Malaria is a four-pronged effort, he added. These include prevention through the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets; treatment by improving care at existing clinics; education that involves training more than 5,800 community health workers; and communication to educate people about the program, Tenney said.

He pointed out that 100 percent of the funds received by Imagine No Malaria go to these programs, because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation picks up all administrative costs.

Malaria can cause flu-like symptoms and can lead to death if untreated. In 2010, an estimated 219 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 660,000 people died, most in Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease was considered to be eradicated in the United States in 1951 following a major four-year effort, Tenney said.

He said he was drawn to help the Imagine No Malaria effort because he came down with the disease while serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Tenney missed taking some of his antimalaria pills while out on patrol. Although he was successfully treated, the brush with the disease certainly helped to increase his awareness of it.

"Having been a survivor, it's kind of personal to me," Tenney said. "It's also a way to save lives, to put our faith into action."

Having a guest speaker from Africa for the special program -- one who has experienced malaria and witnessed its effect on entire villages -- "it'll touch their hearts more," he said.

Leary, who lives in Delaware and works at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, said she will preach from the book of John, Chapter 5. Her talk will be titled, "When Jesus Shows Up."

"I am so grateful, so thrilled," Leary said of the United Methodist Church's efforts to stamp out malaria. "I see this piece as God at work. This church ... already they have made a big difference."

Also on hand for the special programs July 20 will be Mary Hamilton, a Columbus gospel singer who began singing as a girl in a Baptist church near another Columbus -- the one in her native North Carolina.

Tenney said donations to Imagine No Malaria may be made at Maple Grove's Facebook page.

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