Liberia, Last Stop on Presidential Tour of Africa,
Is Home to Extensive United Methodist Health Work
New York, NY, Feb. 22, 2008—President and Mrs. George W. Bush’s February tour of five Africa countries was concerned in large measure with health issues, and from a United Methodist perspective Liberia was an excellent last stop.
The United Methodist Church, of which both the President and First Lady are members, has a long history of extensive health ministries in Liberia. A Methodist presence in the West African countries since it was founded by freed American slaves in the 1820s. Liberia is still emerging from a long, destructive period of civil war.
“We are grateful to President and Mrs. Bush for both lifting up health challenges in Africa and for pointing to public and private measures to meet those needs,” according to the heads of two United Methodist agencies that are collaborating in sparking an increasing denominational emphasis on global health.
Bishop Felton E. May, interim general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, and the Rev. Larry Hollon, general secretary of United Methodist Communications, noted in a joint comment that the church is putting particular emphasis on the eradication of the “diseases of poverty,” such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. The Bushes emphasized the threat of malaria and preventive measure in the course of their trip.
The Bushes concluded the Africa trip on February 21. Stops included Benin, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ghana, and Liberia.
Ganta Hospital in northern Liberia is a major base of United Methodist health work in Africa. The malaria-related work there, supported by a grant from the United Methodist Community-based Malaria Prevention Program, includes a multi-pronged approach:
The community-based prevention program is funded by gifts through the Advance for Christ and His Church and overseen by the Heath and Welfare unit of Global Ministries. The program now operates in seven West African countries.
Training for traditional birth attendants in malaria control is offered at the historic Camphor Mission in Grand Bassa.
Also at Ganta, funds from the denomination’s Global AIDS Fund support HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, behavior modification, voluntary testing and counseling, treatment of persons with AIDS, home care, and care of orphans and vulnerable children. Prevention of mother to child transmission involves providing medication to HIV-positive mothers to use during childbirth.
The United Methodist Church supports three medical missionaries at Ganta Hospital and the health center also has the supports of various congregations and regional church organizations in the United States and Europe. Especially significant in strengthening Ganta is the First United Methodist Church of Peoria, Illinois, which has funded, with a $100,000 gift, an outpatient clinic, and helped to build other facilities and obtain equipment. The Rev. Timothy Bias, pastor of the church, is a director of the General Board of Global Ministries and a major interpreter of the needs and potential of Ganta Hopsital. The North Carolina Annual Conference has a strong relationship with the church in Liberia and with Ganta Hospital. The hospital was badly damaged during civil strife that broke out in 1999. In fact, it was virtually destroyed.
“Today, Ganta Hospital, its clinics, and School of Nursing, strengthened by an expanding relationship with the United Methodist University in Monrovia, are making a major contribution toward health and health services in Liberia,” said the May-Hollon statement. “United Methodist Bishop John Innis and his Liberia Annual Conference are strategic players in health services in Liberia. Our health ministries also enjoy the good will of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is United Methodist and will be addressing our 2008 quadrennial General Conference in Fort Worth in April.”
Bishop May noted that plans are underway to significantly ramp up support of programs in malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis in Liberia. Ganta Hospital will extend its health ministries to surrounding areas using successful models of community-based health care from church-related Kissy Hospital in Sierra Leone. This will involve the assistance of traditional health attendants and community representatives.
Global Ministries and the Liberia Annual Conference are partners in a number of health ventures, including health education for students in the country’s United Methodist elementary and secondary schools. Through a church scholarship, Allen Zomonway, head of Ganta’s community health department, is completing a graduate degree at Africa University in Zimbabwe. Scholarships are also provided to several nursing students.
The development of health services in many African countries is hindered by a “brain drain” to more developed areas. Bishop May said that the church “sees Ganta School of Nursing as the key to cultivating and keeping local health professions in both the long and short terms.”
The United Methodist Church is considering what would be involved to develop Ganta Hospital into a center of learning and high quality medical practice for the whole of West Africa.
The full text of the May-Hollon statement follows:
We are grateful to President and Mrs. Bush for both lifting up health challenges in Africa and for pointing to public and private measures to meet those needs. We were heartened by the Bushes' visits to health facilities, especially malaria centers in Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, and are especially pleased that the trip included a stop in Liberia, a country where The United Methodist Church is deeply engaged in health ministries, particularly in programs to overcome the diseases of poverty such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. The United Methodist Ganta Hospital is a major health facility in northern Liberia and one we are working to expand. Ganta has risen from the ashes of grave damage in the second Liberian Civil war eight years ago to become a thriving health center.
Today, Ganta Hospital, its clinics, and School of Nursing, strengthened by an expanding relationship with the United Methodist University in Monrovia, are making major contributions toward health and health services in Liberia. United Methodist Bishop John Innis and his Liberia Annual Conference are strategic players in health services in Liberia. Our health ministries also enjoy the good will of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is United Methodist and will be addressing our 2008 quadrennial General Conference in Fort Worth in April.
Date posted: Feb 22, 2008