October 20, 2008

Humanitarian Team From St. Joseph Medical Center in Maryland Delivers 62,000 Insecticide-Treated Bed Nets to Reduce Malaria in Tanzania

A team from St. Joseph Medical Center will travel to Tanzania in late October to distribute 62,000 insecticide-treated bed nets in an effort to dramatically reduce deaths from malaria in 21 villages with a population of 70,000 people in the Karatu District of this impoverished, disease-stricken East African nation.

The project, one of several recent high-profile international efforts aimed at battling this deadly disease, is the single-largest distribution of insecticide-treated nets ever provided to Tanzania. It is a continuation of the Village Wellness Program, established by St. Joseph Medical Center in 2002, which has given more than $1 million of aid to Karatu through animal projects (heifers, goats, chickens), latrines, Mama stoves, water filtration, HIV/AIDS care and education, health screenings, business loans and aid to health dispensaries and the Karatu hospital.

"People are dying every day," said John Tolmie, CEO of St. Joseph Medical Center, where hundreds of staff contributed $21,000 of their own money for a "Cast A Net" for Tanzania fundraiser last winter. "The bed nets address a huge issue that will significantly improve the quality of life, which is impossible to do when so many are sick."

The nets, which cost $330,000, have also been financed with a $300,000 grant from Catholic Health Initiatives, which is St. Joseph's parent company. They were produced locally in Arusha, creating a boon for the Tanzanian economy. Approximately 90% of the world's malaria occurs in Africa; and about three-quarters of the estimated 1 million malaria deaths each year are children under age five, according to the World Health Organization. Insecticide-treated bed nets can accommodate a family of four for up to four years, providing protection at night-time, when most transmissions occur.

Recently, the mosquito-borne illness has attracted more attention than ever before. Last week, a coalition of governments, international organizations, businesses and nonprofit groups - as well as rock star Bono of U2 - pledged $3 billion to combat the disease.

The 16-member humanitarian team organized by St. Joseph Medical Center includes seven St. Joseph staff, including physicians, lab and infection control workers, plus five staff from Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colo., which also fundraised for the net effort. The team leaves for Tanzania Oct. 25 and returns Nov. 4.

"The people of Karatu have so little in the way of personal possessions, and only the most primitive food and shelter," said Dr. Gail Cunningham, chief of St. Joseph's emergency department, who will travel there for the third time. "Their health is of utmost importance in their daily struggles to live fulfilling lives."

In addition to the net project Catholic Health Initiatives Mission and Ministry Fund has provided more than $26 million since 1997 to help support projects that improve and sustain the health of U.S. and international communities. The Village Wellness Project's partners also include the Karatu Lutheran Hospital and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.

About St. Joseph: St. Joseph Medical Center is a 354-bed nonprofit, regional medical center in Towson, Md., and a member of Catholic Health Initiatives. Founded in 1864 by the Sisters of St. Francis, St. Joseph has been recognized by "U.S. News & World Report" as one of America's best orthopedic facilities and is a nationally ranked Top 100 heart hospital. See www.sjmcmd.org.

About Mercy Regional Medical Center: Mercy Regional Medical Center is southwest Colorado's newest, largest, and most technologically advanced medical facility. As a not-for-profit medical center, Mercy, a member of Catholic Health Initiatives, is committed to improving the health and wellness of the communities it serves and the individuals who receive care at the hospital. See mercydurango.org

About Catholic Health Initiatives: Catholic Health Initiatives is a national nonprofit health organization with headquarters in Denver. The faith-based system includes 77 hospitals; 40 long-term care, assisted- and residential-living facilities; and two community health-services organizations in 20 states. Catholic Health Initiatives ranks as the nation's second-largest Catholic health care system. See catholichealthinitiatives.org