Global Ministries/UMCOR response to COVID-19 pandemic

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By Roland Fernandes
January 25, 2022 | ATLANTA

Since the early months of 2020, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) have followed a broad, proactive course in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reflective of the international guidelines for nonprofit participation in the effort to control and overcome the disease and in line with established denominational policy on the alleviation of suffering. Guiding us always is the key United Methodist value of “doing no harm.” 

Global Ministries response through the “Sheltering in Love” Advance and other sources of funding have, to date, enabled the release of over 340 grants totaling $4.5 million to more than 300 partners in 57 countries. These funds provided educational resources about COVID-19 prevention and dismantling vaccine myths, food relief to communities deeply affected by job losses and purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), respirators and hospital equipment, among other needs related to combatting the virus. Regionally, we have spent $1.5 million in the United States, $1 million in Africa and several hundreds of thousands in other regions of the world.

“Love Beyond Borders,” launched in October 2021, is our participation in the interfaith movement to assure the equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide. This campaign (represented by Advance #3022671) was inspired by First UMC, Boise, Idaho, and is part of the effort of the international COVAX Alliance to assure that low and middle-income countries receive their fair amount of vaccines. The COVAX Alliance is comprised by the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and UNICEF as the key implementing agency. To date, United Methodists have contributed about $250,000 to this effort and UNICEF has distributed close to a billion vaccines and anticipates distributing 4.1 billion in 2022. We are an integral part of the largest and most complex vaccination campaign in history. Advocacy for vaccine equity is critical and this has also been emphasized by the Council of Bishops of the UMC and the Connectional Table. Advocacy and education are the two keys areas that can positively impact the global distribution of the vaccine.

The elimination of the coronavirus is a daunting task and can only be done with governmental and other partnerships. Logistical challenges are among the greatest barriers to immunization. Vaccines must be legally purchased, safely transported and stored under certain conditions before being administered.

Global Ministries is not in a position to do this as it is usually the responsibility of governments and partners like UNICEF. Moreover, to be effective in addressing the pandemic, vaccinations need to be administered to family or community groups simultaneously. This remains Global Ministries’ primary goal for its participation in the COVAX campaign: to effectively and equitably respond to the pandemic in ways that alleviate suffering for entire communities.

All our COVID-19 related response reflects our established policy of the alleviation of suffering without regard to religion, race or national origin. This was a founding principle of UMCOR in 1940 and remains our bedrock foundation today. Our disaster response and health ministries are not and never have been by Methodists solely for Methodists. They are expressions of the love of God in Christ for all God’s children, our neighbors. This theology of inclusion has particular relevancy in regard to proposals to target particular populations with denominational affiliation or specific denominational roles for preferential vaccination.

Along with our active role in the COVAX campaign, our efforts and resources are best devoted to our ongoing program, Health Systems Strengthening, which works with multiple United Methodist health facility networks, primarily in Africa, to establish necessary triage and handwashing stations and supply PPE as well as continuing other essential health programs. Some of our facilities have been selected as vaccine sites and we will continue to support them in this role.

Chief among concerns is the preparation of communities to understand the importance of vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19. Our annual conference health boards in Africa are actively engaged in work to dismantle myths about the disease and vaccine. One of our major roles is to prepare health workers to advocate within their own countries for the vaccine and to help health facilities meet government criteria to become vaccine sites, in partnership with health ministries.

We urge all United Methodists to join us in this life-giving mission – to support and advocate for the equitable distribution of vaccine and to equip personnel and facilities in the safe vaccination of communities. We ask for prayer, that God will guide us in the ways of compassion, generosity, equity and hope for deliverance from all suffering.

Roland Fernandes
General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries and
The United Methodist Committee on Relief