RICHMOND — A team of Baptists from Virginia has officially launched an initiative to battle malaria in Ghana, where the debilitating disease is the number one cause of death.
“More than Nets,” a partnership between the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Ghana Baptist Convention, aims to distribute 100,000 mosquito nets over the next two years and provide education about malaria prevention. Many medical authorities believe insecticide-treated mosquito nets are the most cost-effective way to prevent malaria transmission.
Project organizers also hope to start 300 new churches in Yendi, a municipal district in northeastern Ghana, where they will work closely with pastor Emmanuel Mustafa, a Ghanaian who wants to start a new congregation in every village where nets are distributed.
During a Jan. 14-23 visit, Virginia Baptist Mission Board leaders and a group of volunteers from Tappahannock, Va., began the process of distributing nets in the heavily Muslim region where about 180,000 people live.
In a post on the project’s Facebook page, volunteers reported Jan. 16 that at least 100 people have made professions of faith in Christ and four churches have been organized.
Also in the country on a separate trip is BGAV executive director John Upton, who is meeting with officials of the Ghana Baptist Convention in his role as president of the Baptist World Alliance.
“For part of this trip I will be joining a group of Virginia Baptists for church planting, baptism and mosquito net distribution in the villages,” Upton said on his Facebook page, “A Sacred Journey.”
“Please keep us all in your prayers as we travel, preach, distribute mosquito nets …, participate in a graduation, and worship together,” he wrote.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, Ghana’s entire population of 24.2 million is at risk for malaria.
Many houses in the country — as in much of Africa — lack window screens and anti-malarial drugs are expensive. At this point no effective malaria vaccine exists.
For several years, world health organizations have focused on eliminating malaria, which kills about 700,000 people each year, primarily in Africa. About 85 percent of the deaths are children under the age of 5. Since 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort, including about $200 million in the development of a vaccine.
Last fall researchers announced disappointing results from clinical trials of the vaccine — highlighting the need for continued reliance on treated nets and indoor insecticide spraying as primary prevention tools.
The Mission Board’s glocal missions team and a volunteer steering committee are encouraging the purchase of “units” at $10 each. Units include a net and funds for education, transportation and organizing new churches. Leaders said they hope to raise $1 million over the next two years for the project.
Robert Dilday (email@example.com) is managing editor of the Religious Herald.