African Bishops Discuss Health Needs

April 16, 2009

By M. Isaac Broune*

April 14, 2009 | ABIDJAN, Cote d'Ivoire (UMNS)

United Methodists are looking at ways to improve health systems in Africa.

Representatives of the denomination and its Global Health Initiative recently consulted with several African bishops about how to strengthen their health boards. The goal: to be better able to receive funds and improve the health systems in their areas.

Meeting March 10-12 at Jubile-Cocody United Methodist Church in Abidjan, participants heard from experts on ways to access money for each of their annual, or regional, conferences in order to help their people improve their health.

In the opening worship, Bishop Benjamin Boni of the Cote d'Ivoire Annual Conference recognized that the "needs of the church in Africa are so numerous that one can have the impression that nothing is (being) done to improve people's lives."

Needs of humanity

Quoting from 1 Kings 18:42-46, he challenged the participants to be like that "cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising from the sea" that caused a heavy rain.

"The work accomplished by The United Methodist Church resembles a drop of water in the sea of the needs of humanity," Boni said. But, he added, if the people called United Methodist have faith in God, who called them to bring healing to other people, "the small cloud will be transformed in a heavy rain for a future of hope in the African continent."

In order to achieve that goal, the Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, suggested from the outset a simple methodology: "We need to understand where we are, start from where we are, step up to where other donors exist, meet their expectations and keep people from dying from diseases of poverty."


The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the Global Health Initiative, briefed participants about the denomination's four areas of focus and the initiative's plan to create better health for people around the world. He also shared an overview of an upcoming Imagine Campaign to build malaria awareness.

Other experts at the event represented the United Nations Foundation, the Global Fund, Cote d'Ivoire Malaria Control Program, Population Services International, CARE International, Country Coordinating Mechanisms, Focal Point, the United Methodist Texas Annual Conference and Duke University.

Participants came from the denomination's annual conferences in North Katanga (Congo), Central Congo, South Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Liberia, Angola and East Africa.

Funding possibilities

Patrick Silborn, senior partnerships officer at the Global Fund, introduced them to an overview of the fund, its history and the grant process. Most African countries are eligible for grants lasting up to six years, he said.

Michael Pajonk, from the U.N. Foundation, described his agency as supporting partnerships and the funding of organizations to do good works and noted the current partnership with The United Methodist Church on malaria.

Bishop Janice Huie of Houston, Texas, who moderated the consultation, said the health ministry partnership between Cote d'Ivoire and the Texas Conference could be used by all the annual conferences in Africa.

"All the annual conferences need to be engaged in the same process to eliminate malaria, as it was begun in Cote d'Ivoire," she said.

For Bishop John Innis of Liberia, "the consultation was an excellent educational opportunity." He called upon his counterparts to do their best in improving health through transparency, leadership and good governance.

"UMCOR will follow up with each conference to build health systems and to manage programs that will fight malaria and other diseases and save lives," said Shannon Trilli, an executive with UMCOR Health.

* Broune is conference communicator for the Cote d'Ivoire Annual Conference.