Sunday, March 28, 2010

Washington Post On Faith Guest Blog

"So much talk of death and dying, need more talk of life and living."
What most people know about Nigeria is bad--internet scams and deadly fighting among the faithful. What most people don't know is that Nigeria is on the brink of achieving the largest life-saving advancement of this century and that religious leaders will make it so.
Development experts on the ground posit that the "interreligious violence" in Nigeria is actually fueled by dwindling resources, noting that it is easier to escalate conflicts to violence when two groups of different religions land on opposite sides of an issue.

What is undeniable is that faith leaders in Nigeria are the lynchpin to a plan that is underway to save millions of lives.

These faith leaders are most concerned with protecting and preserving lives and they know that malaria does not discriminate. Malaria is a disease, carried by mosquitoes, that permanently maims hundreds of millions and kills one million (mostly young children) each year.

The Nigerian Interfaith Action Association, with support from the Washington, DC based Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, is running the last leg of the race to end malaria related sickness and death in Nigeria. The Sultan of Sokoto and the Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria's most senior religious authorities and also good friends are partnering on the largest collaboration of Christians and Muslims worldwide.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and bears the brunt of malaria cases with hundreds of millions infected and almost 300,000 deaths each year. Nothing kills more people in Nigeria than malaria. In addition, it costs the country ten billion dollars in economic loses every year.

Yet, preventing and treating malaria is fairly easy and relatively cheap. A ten dollar bed net will protect two to three people for five years and a two dollar medicine will cure those who contract the disease.

Nigeria is a country that for generations has been almost half Muslim and half Christian and is both deeply religious and deeply tolerant. It is common to find families consisting of both Muslims and Christians, political office alternates between Christians and Muslims and faith leaders of different religions meet often to agree upon messaging before they address their respective congregants and in recent cases to quell violence.

After the largest marshaling of resources for one disease in one country, 70 million long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets will be distributed across Nigeria's 36 states by the end of this year. Faith leaders have participated in every aspect of the campaign but are being leveraged as a secret weapon to get people to accept and use the bed nets pushing current utilization rates from 50% to 90%.

More than any politician or celebrity, faith leaders wield tremendous credibility and influence and though they have engaged in sourcing and delivering the nets, they are best positioned to show Nigerians how to use the nets.

The Archbishop said "we must deliver," and I believe him.

When you think about Nigeria, think about life and living.

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