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Lutherans to focus on Nigerian health care in 2013

In Nigeria, the malaria prevention campaign includes bed net distribution and community education.

This new year of 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN). In observance, several U.S. Lutheran groups plan a significant contribution to healthcare and clean water initiatives in the African country under the theme Nigeria Healthcare 2013.

Participating groups are the Minneapolis Area Synod (MAS) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), ELCA Global Mission, ELCA Mission Advancement, Global Health Ministries (GHM), and Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry. Their goal is threefold: to raise $500,000 for Nigerian healthcare, to achieve 100 percent participation in the effort among MAS congregations, and to educate congregations/members about the connection between adequate healthcare infrastructure, clean water, and prevention in creating healthy communities in Nigeria and elsewhere.

The $500,000 goal would include:

* $300,000 capital funding for the Demsa Hospital construction.

* $100,000 for the ELCA Malaria Campaign for Nigeria to be administered by GHM.

* $50,000 capital finding to expand and update dispensaries throughout Nigeria.

* $30,000 for community-based primary health care.

* $20,000 for a clean water program, including well pump repair and village-level training of repair technicians, as well as a program called Water and Sanitation/Hygiene.

LCCN water engineer Bernard Adamu helps Jay Johnson from the Minneapolis Area Synod water team install Ndumne Village well pump. Photos provided by Tim Iverson

Clean drinking water is an issue in much of the country during the dry season.

MAS Bishop Ann Svennungsen said, “The Minneapolis Area Synod rejoices that our companion synod, the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, marks its 100th anniversary in 2013. In celebration of this milestone, we have launched the campaign, ‘Nigeria Healthcare 2013: Serving and Celebrating Together.’ Together with Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry and Global Health Ministries — both Minneapolis-based Lutheran service organizations — we will provide vital assistance for our LCCN brothers and sisters as they advance their goals for improving healthcare and controlling malaria in villages throughout Nigeria.” The LCCN has been the MAS’s companion church since 1989.

Basing health care at the community level

Mount Calvary Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Excelsior, Minnesota, has committed $200,000 for the hospital construction project. St. Peder Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis, has committed a five percent tithe of its capital campaign for Nigeria Healthcare 2013.

The aim of the efforts will be community- or village-based healthcare at two pilot locations in the Adamawa state in Nigeria. That region has 1.5 million Lutherans in 800 congregations. According to the Rev. Tim Iverson of GHM, the thrust will include education and local responsibility for health facilities and clean water supply.

Part of the clean water project involves sanitation and hygiene. Clean drinking water is an issue in much of the country during the dry season of the year, when locating and carrying water is a major chore. Iverson said there are many existing water wells that can no longer be used because of maintenance and repair issues. Efforts will be made to establish water committees that will be responsible for maintaining existing wells and making necessary repairs to pumps. In some cases there is a need for constructing latrines so waste water doesn’t contaminate drinking water.

LCCN Village Outreach Workers Kumso Daajabiu and Besty Phinias review a project with GHM consultant Dr. David Thompson

Bed nets that help to prevent the spread of malaria will also be distributed. An educational component will help people recognize malaria symptoms and learn what to do when the symptoms appear.

Iverson said an integral part of the effort will be engaging Nigerians in financial responsibility for health facilities. So, rather than plunking down a clinic somewhere and then walking away, the goal would be that locals become very involved and after several years assume 60 percent of the costs of operating these facilities.

David M. Thompson, medical doctor and advisor to GHM, explained that “The LCCN/MAS/GHM partnership is really about changing the paradigm of health care in a resource poor setting. In the medical model inherited from the West, the focus was on individual patients who were fortunate enough to arrive at a medical facility, which is in reality the minority.

“Many of these facilities, very often the better ones, were church/mission operated. While many lives were saved, death rates remained excessively high because of death rates among young children, especially [those] under age five years, and women in the child-bearing ages,” Thompson added. Anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of children die before age five years in these settings.

“The new paradigm does a number of things,” Thompson told Metro Lutheran. “First, it focuses on improving the health of a given population, not just a random set of patients. It brings a basic level of care to the community level through the use of community health workers. It empowers communities to take ownership of their health. The key is to bring about lasting changes in behaviors to positively impact health — sleeping under bed nets; drinking clean water; exclusive breast feeding for the first six months; basic nutrition; local treatment of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.

“Finally the community-based care is intimately tied to, and integrated with, improved care by medical professionals in the clinics, dispensaries and hospitals,” Thompson continued. “The result is that death rates for children can be cut by at least 50 percent. Maternal mortality rates can also be lowered although not to the same extent. Thus, we are partnering and developing ownership levels at multiple levels, from the LCCN and its health board to the teams implementing the programs to the individual communities.”

For additional information on Nigeria Healthcare 2013, contact the MAS at 612/870-3610.

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