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Church promotes COVID-19 vaccines in Africa

by PRIDE Newsdesk

Leaders from Seke South United Methodist Church near Harare, Zimbabwe, display their COVID-19 vaccination cards. The United Methodist Church is partnering with governments to promote vaccinations. In Zimbabwe, three United Methodist hospitals and 12 clinics are vaccination sites. From left are: Pastor Lameck Makuza, the Rev. Juliet Thondhlana and lay leader Michael Dengwani. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UM News.

The United Methodist Church continues to collaborate with governments in Africa to promote COVID-19 vaccinations.

In Zimbabwe, the government reopened in-person worship services to a maximum of 100 fully vaccinated congregants in August and reached out to churches to encourage members to get vaccinated. In September, the government announced that unvaccinated members also could begin attending worship, a decision that generated mixed emotions.

Fears of a fourth wave of the pandemic in Africa have been heightened by the emergence of the new Omicron variant discovered in neighboring South Africa last month.

Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa is among those touting vaccinations.

“Leadership is about influence,” the bishop said in April after getting his second vaccine. “As a bishop of the church, I need to encourage people to receive vaccinations.”

The message for all Zimbabweans, he added, is showing love for one another. “If you get a vaccine,” he said, “you are loving your neighbor. You are protecting your neighbor and loved ones. This is the time to show we can do things together. This is very important for our health.”

The Ministry of Health and Child Care assigned staff to conduct vaccinations at churches as requested by various denominations. The three United Methodist hospitals and 12 clinics in Zimbabwe are COVID-19 vaccination sites.

“The United Methodist Church operates worldwide, adhering to the laws of the country,” said Rev. Alan M. Gurupira, administrative assistant to the bishop. “Government promulgations are respected for as long as they are well-meaning for the citizens. So is the vaccination program.

“Through the resident bishop’s call to action, the area health board is at an advanced stage in making the necessary logistics to kickstart the vaccination program in our institutions and congregations.”

According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.9% of Zimbabwe’s 14.9 million residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Dec. 6.

“Vaccination is one big way that can help control (or even eliminate) this COVID-19 virus,” said Simon Mafunda, former lay leader for the Zimbabwe East Conference. “As Christian leaders, we don’t preach to people to do what we say but what we do. We are convinced that the vaccines do work and all the stories about side effects are just excuses.” Mafunda stressed the importance of following World Health Organization COVID-19 protocols.

Pharmacist Tinashe Fusire agreed.

“I urge everyone to be vaccinated,” said Fusire, a member of Marondera Inner City United Methodist Church. “Immunity is achieved through being vaccinated. Statistical data from places like the United Kingdom show a marked decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths in those who have been vaccinated.”

In the Malawi Provisional Conference, the church actively supports the government vaccination program.

“The church’s role is to encourage members to be vaccinated,” said Rev. Daniel Mhone, district superintendent. “All measures are observed during worship services, and wearing masks is a must. The challenge is you still see a few who do not put on masks.”

In the Mozambique North and Mozambique South conferences, the church is urging members to get vaccinated. The program initially covered frontline health workers, then teachers, public transit drivers and people older than age 50. Those ages 30 years and over are currently being vaccinated.

“The government of Mozambique is conducting the COVID-19 vaccination, and the church is sensitizing the community to get vaccinated,” said Rev. Eurico Gustavo of Mozambique North.

Rev. Joao Sambo, who coordinates Lusophone news coverage for UM News, said the church in Mozambique South is “encouraging people to get the vaccine and to obey and observe all recommended health protocols.”

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that since the epidemic began in March 2020, Congo has recorded more than 59,174 cases, including 1,110 deaths. Kinshasa, the country’s capital, remains the epicenter of the disease.

“The Congolese government has selected six medical facilities in the episcopal region of Central Congo, which stretches from the center to the west of the country,” said Gabriel Dikete, health coordinator, Central Congo Episcopal Area. “Through UMConnect, we send daily [text] messages to call on people to accept to be vaccinated. To vaccinate is to save, protect, strengthen our immune system and reduce contamination by reducing mortality.”

United Methodist medical facilities also are assisting in COVID-19 testing.

More than 30 laboratory technicians recently received training to better diagnose diseases, including COVID-19, in United Methodist hospital laboratories in eastern Congo. The training was funded through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries’ Global Health program.

“Those who test positive for the virus are referred to a COVID-19 treatment center. Patients at the United Methodist Health Center in Irambo now have access to the COVID-19 rapid test,” said Dr. Jimmy Kasongo.

Leonard Telonga, a nurse at the United Methodist Health Center of Majengo, expressed his satisfaction with the program.

“With this training, I am able to make [better] decisions in the treatment of diseases.”

(Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Conference. Londe is a French news editor for UM News in the Congo Central Conference. Philippe Kituka Lolonga contributed to this report.)

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