PHOTO CREDIT: Pierre Manya
By Julia Kayser*
November 23, 2012—Holistic is a word that I come across almost every week as I write about UMCOR’s global health programs. Sometimes I use it to describe initiatives like Imagine No Malaria, which focus on both preventive care and treatment of symptoms. When parish nurses in the U.S. talk about having a holistic practice, they mean that they’re addressing people’s physical, mental, and spiritual needs. Another way that UMCOR does holistic work is by training community health workers to assist their neighbors with multiple health concerns, such maternal and child survival, sanitation, and first aid. The bottom line is: holistic programs analyze and address complete systems, not just parts of systems.
Dr. Pierre Manya, the health board and grant coordinator for the United Methodist Central Congo Conference, says that his approach is based on the vision of Bishop David Kekumba Yemba. “In order to bring about the work of God,” Dr. Manya explains, “[our Bishop] wants evangelism to reach people who are well educated and in good health.” Because the body is a temple for the soul, health care—not only for Methodists but for the entire Congolese population—is a big concern for the Central Congo Methodist Church.
Partnerships with the Congolese government and nongovernmental organizations like UMCOR have allowed the Central Congo Conference to run no less than 42 hospitals and health centers. These clinics are able to address simultaneously multiple endemic health problems—such as malaria and HIV/AIDS—with both preventive care, through community outreach, training community-based health workers to refer patients from villages to the hospital setting, and curative treatment. Messages about preventing malaria and HIV/AIDS, diseases that are related and interact with one another, are distributed at church services, annual conferences, community events, prenatal doctor’s visits, preschools, and over the radio, in addition to the clinical approach at a local United Methodist facility.
In the nearby South Congo conference, Dr. Kashala, another health board coordinator, stresses that “Wives play a vital role in the health of their families in general, and their young children in particular.” But, the Kapanga region is rural and impoverished, with high rates of illiteracy. “That’s why… we’ve aimed to educate and train community health workers and traditional birth attendants,” he explains. If community health workers have the basic tools for teaching, women who learn about prevention and treatment with regard to a variety of health issues can make a big change in their families’ behavior.
This holistic, education-based approach has been very beneficial. It’s also made a huge difference for traditional birth attendants, such as Ms. Monique. “Before the training,” Dr. Kashala says, “she did not know that malaria could cause anemia, abortion, premature delivery… and low birth weight for newborns.” Ms. Monique became “very committed to fighting against this scourge in her community” because it was an effective way for her to reduce neonatal mortality.
Health initiatives in the Congo are holistic because they address many parts of a complicated system: the overlapping epidemics of malaria and HIV/AIDS; prevention and treatment; care for souls and bodies; and education for people at every level of the local community. “We consider the adage: Health for all and by all,” says Dr. Pierre Manya. “Everyone is invited to lend a hand and improve the health of the population.”
Your gift to General Health Program and Ministry, UMCOR Advance 3020622, will support UMCOR’s holistic approach to health care and make a difference in the lives of many.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.