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National & World News

March 8, 2004
United Methodists offer drug benefits to members
This story has been revised to clarify some details about the drug discount program. Also a correction: CVS and Walgreen's are not part of the program yet.

By Amy Green*
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - Responding to the escalating cost of prescription drugs, a United Methodist organization has begun making a drug benefit available to all 8.3 million of the church's U.S. members.

Through a partnership with prescription drug and health supply discounter DestinationRx, the United Methodist Association of Health and Welfare Ministries is offering a free card that gives discounts of up to 50 percent on prescription drugs and other supplies, such as contact lenses, vitamins and drugs for pets.

The benefit is available to all United Methodist Church members, regardless of their insurance coverage, income or health status. It was announced by the association, an organization of the denomination's health care organizations, at a national conference March 4-7 in Nashville.

The United Methodist Church is the nation's second largest Protestant denomination. With an average age of 57, its members are among the oldest of any denomination in the United States.

Forty million Americans have little or no prescription drug insurance. This benefit is meant especially for them, said the Rev. Mearle Griffith, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton, Ohio,-based association.

"We have many people falling through the cracks," he said. "They're choosing between taking all of the drugs they need and groceries."

The announcement comes during an election year when the cost of prescription drugs will be a decisive issue. The United Methodist Church is the first denomination to offer such a benefit, but Griffith has heard from other denominations, such as the United Church of Christ, Mennonite Church USA and the Roman Catholic Church, about offering a similar benefit.

He believes the nation's leaders have been too slow in addressing the issue.

"We think it's taken too long, and we're not going to wait around any longer," he said.

The benefit is the result of two years of research into how the denomination could help members, especially the working poor, afford their medications. The denomination's missions arm, the Board of Global Ministries, took up the issue as a social justice cause, said Jane Ehrman, health consultant to the board's health and relief unit.

DestinationRx, a privately owned company founded in 1999 and based in Los Angeles, has contracts with more than 25,000 pharmacies across the country, including Eckerd's, Kmart and Target, to offer discounted prescription drugs and health supplies to employers, unions, and other organizations and individuals. It was selected to offer health cost information and software to the federal government under the Medicare reform bill signed in December.

Ehrman said DestinationRx has "an outstanding record." During her study, she looked at other providers in the industry and also talked to DestinationRx's customers.

Working with Ehrman, the association struck a deal with DestinationRx two weeks ago and began offering the cards immediately. United Methodists can obtain the cards by calling (800) 379-9040 and referring to the United Methodist Association. Though the company has a general Web site, Senior Vice President Dan Jadosh said United Methodists should call the toll-free number to get their membership information before going online. In addition, the company is developing a Web site specifically for United Methodist participants.

The United Methodist Association is promoting the card among the church leadership and member health and welfare providers, and it will discuss the program at the denomination's top legislative gathering, the General Conference, April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh. Griffith hopes that as word spreads, congregations and youth groups will use the cards in their outreach to the poor.

"This is a natural extension of our commitment to health," he said. "It's our passion to help the poor and needy."

DestinationRx joined with the denomination to offer the benefit for similar reasons, Jadosh said.

"It's not a situation that's an end-all to fixing the problem, but it will provide help at least," he said.

Julie Wernz, a United Methodist Association member from Baltimore, knows firsthand how much people pay for their prescriptions. She is an employee of a company that processes insurance claims. She believes people deserve help.

"Somebody's got to do it and look out for the seniors," she said.

Bill Deswick, a United Methodist Association member from Pontiac, Ill., applauded the denomination for stepping into the debate.

"Prescription drugs have been for years the highest-priced part of getting well," he said. "This provides a good opportunity to get involved in something that will really help our members."

In addition to DestinationRx's toll-free number, more information is also available from the United Methodist Association at (937) 227-9494.

*Green is a freelance journalist based in Nashville, Tenn. News media can contact Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or .

Prescription Savings Card Program: Questions and Answers


March 15, 2004
Three-way partnership aims to improve health care in Africa

By Linda Green*
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS) - Two United Methodist-related entities and a research hospital have entered a partnership to advance health care in Africa by training medical providers to respond more effectively to infectious diseases.

Africa University, Methodist Healthcare of Memphis and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis have engaged in a partnership to equip health care professionals from Zimbabwe to deal with HIV/AIDS. The partnership is helping health care providers address the pandemic through education, prevention, treatment and infection control in their communities. Though the partnership is 3 years old, officials discussed it for the first time in recent interviews with United Methodist News Service.

The partnership provides a way for Africa University to do outreach and expand the church's ministry as well as change health care across Zimbabwe, said James Salley, associate vice chancellor of development at the United Methodist-related school.

"My dream is that United Methodists would see this joint ministry and their investment in Africa University as a good thing because of the human good now being done and the potential it has for the future," he said.

The school's new Faculty of Health Sciences will assist Methodist Healthcare and St. Jude in developing the program. The Medical Center of the University of Kentucky is also providing assistance.

The three-way partnership began with a conversation in 1999 between Methodist Healthcare Chaplain Elvernice "Sonny" Davis and Dr. Raul Ribeiro, director of St. Jude's International Outreach Program, about AIDS in Africa. As a United Methodist minister, Davis knew about Africa University and thought it could be the avenue for helping stem the pandemic in Africa.

Further talks focused on Africa University becoming the site of distance-learning opportunities for health care programs and St. Jude providing on-site training. The conversation paved the way for a study trip of health care professional from Methodist Healthcare and St. Jude to Africa. The doctors and nurses observed the quality of facilities and staff, and the high rate of patient death and illness resulting from HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.

Each day across the African continent, nearly 7,000 people die from HIV/AIDS. In many parts of Africa, the health care system is so poor that instead of being a tool for treatment it actually becomes a transmission agent - through the re-use of needles - in spreading the virus. Globally, AIDS is the leading infectious cause of death. An estimated 42 million people worldwide - including 3.2 million children under age 15 - are living with HIV/AIDS.

After the trip to Zimbabwe, St. Jude and Methodist Healthcare officials acknowledged a great need for HIV/AIDS-trained health care professionals for Mutare, home of Africa University, and Zimbabwe proper. A visiting fellowship was developed to provide additional education for doctors and nurses from Zimbabwe at St. Jude and Methodist Healthcare. Methodist Healthcare sponsors and funds the fellowship, which brings in two health care professionals a year from Zimbabwe for training in HIV/AIDS care at St. Jude.

The study trip also led to a meeting of officials from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the Board of Global Ministries, Africa University, the University of Kentucky, Methodist Healthcare, St. Jude and Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center. As a result of that meeting, Methodist Healthcare of Houston provided a grant to hire a dean to help Africa University develop the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The health sciences department, which started in January, "seeks to train a leadership cadre of community and public health practitioners who will be able to function adequately in sub-Sahara African countries as managers of community health projects, district health managers, coordinators of district level HIV/AIDS and disease prevention and control programs," according to the school's Web site. "The training will focus on service in the rural areas, which are usually underserved by the health authorities in most of the least developed countries on the African continent."

Between January 2001 and October 2003, Dr. Miguela A. Caniza, director of Infectious Diseases in St. Jude's International Outreach Program, hosted 10 fellows from the university and Mutare, including four nurses and four physicians who trained for two months at St. Jude in HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment, and infection control.

One participant was Dr. Tendai Manyeza, the doctor at Africa University and Mutare Mission. The training gave him and the other health care providers up-to-date information and practical knowledge about HIV/AIDS, Caniza said.

"The ultimate goal is to improve the survival (rate) or prevent AIDS in places where it is so prevalent," she said. One day, she said, she hopes that trials of a proposed vaccine will be conducted from Africa University.

The university is a good partner because of its location, its mission, its resources and its environment, she said. "Africa University just fit beautifully into what we are doing here at St. Jude and what they are doing over there."

The university's Faculty of Health Sciences is identifying key people for training and helping determine how St. Jude can best be the conduit for that.

"Africa University is significant because of its relationship with the local community knows who they are and how those people can impact the community," Caniza said. One hope is that the university would become a referral center for other countries, so that people could go to there to learn about HIV/AIDS instead of traveling to St. Jude.

The school's mission of educating leaders is critical to St. Jude and Methodist Healthcare's international outreach efforts, Caniza said. HIV/AIDS is rampant in part because of the lack of education among lay people and health care providers. That, she said, produces a stigma of isolation and discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

"Africa University is the key for education ... and in the health science center, this is what they are going to be doing - training and producing health care professionals," she said. St. Jude and Methodist Healthcare would not be providing training to beginners or "from scratch. We are going to complement their education in providing information in HIV/AIDS," she said.

One way to do that will be through distance education, which Caniza says is "becoming an incredible tool in the age of globalization." St. Jude already uses this approach to provide educational opportunities electronically in other countries. Through a format such as video conferencing, the hospital can deliver lectures, lessons, presentations and diagnosis assistance.

The hospital uses Cure4Kids, an international online medical education and collaboration network that helps health care professionals in countries with limited resources treat children with infectious and catastrophic diseases.

Along with lack of resources, isolation is a problem for physicians in poor countries, according to Dr. Judith Wilimas, a director in the international outreach program. "One of the things we can easily provide them is the help and support ... which allows them to go on with their program."

Comparing the partnership to the parable of teaching a man to fish, Wilimas said the goal is not to tell the physicians what to do but to assist them in developing the appropriate medical program. "The way we treat patients at St. Jude is not going to work in Central America or in Africa."

The partnership has been a learning experience for all involved - the St. Jude and Methodist Healthcare officials as well as the practitioners from Zimbabwe. "We learned many things from them," Caniza said. "We learned that they have amazing strength and hope ... and vision and courage."

Wilimas took their impressions a step further. What was most significant, she said, is "what they are able to accomplish with so little - what so few people can do that will make such a great difference."

Dr. Patricia Flynn, a member of St. Jude's Department of Infectious Diseases, provided a list of ways to move health care forward in Zimbabwe and other developing countries. Topping her list is prevention, which can be accomplished not only through educational programs but also by working toward vaccines. A second step is preventing HIV transmission from pregnant women to their babies. The third area is making treatment available to extend the lives of those already infected with HIV.

"Africa University is crucial to these efforts," Flynn said, "because the efforts to educate people in Zimbabwe and the entire African continent are critical to have qualified health care people to deliver care among the population. It is through these individuals who are known, trusted and respected within their communities that we can have the most impact in spreading information and providing care. Africa University will bring to us a sense of cultural sensitivity."

Flynn calls the partnership promising.

"I believe in this," she said. "St. Jude is a hospital, and I know Methodist Healthcare is committed to working with this disease. This is done because we want to help people. It is not done to make money or to become famous. It is done because it comes from our hearts.

"It is a mission we have."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn. News media can contact her at (615) 742-5470 or .


March 12, 2004
Missionaries' son narrowly escapes Madrid bomb blasts

A UMNS Report By Linda Bloom*
The son of a United Methodist missionary couple based in Madrid, Spain, narrowly escaped one of the terrorist bomb blasts there.

Four commuter trains were bombed in coordinated attacks during the March 11 morning rush, killing nearly 200 people and injuring more than 1,400, and plunging Spain into three days of mourning. According to The New York Times, it was the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe since World War II.

Officials at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries received an e-mail message from the Rev. Mark Abbott, who serves with his wife, Diane, in Madrid, after they were able to talk with their 12-year-old son, Chris, about his experience.

Chris Abbott did not feel or hear the bomb blast when his train pulled into the Santa Eugenia station one or two minutes later, according to his father. "However, his car pulled in right next to the affected train," Mark Abbott reported. "He saw the demolished car, dead bodies, severely injured people."

A man who rides the same train every day gave Chris a cell phone to allow him to call his parents. His sister, Caroline, 17, usually rides with him and carries a phone but was not on the train that day.

"While talking on the phone, a classmate came up to him and told him that her parents were coming to pick them up and take them to school, which is what happened," Mark Abbott said. "Diane could never have gotten there by car. The area was totally inaccessible."

Mark Abbott, a member of the Northwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference, serves as a professor of New Testament in the United Evangelical Theological Seminary, the oldest Protestant theological school in Spain. Diane Abbott does translation work for the seminary program. They also have another son, Andrew, 20.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the Board of Global Ministries, sent a letter of condolence and concern to the Rev. Alfredo Abad Heras, chief executive of the Spanish Protestant Church.

"Such a great tragedy reminds us not only of the fragility of life, but also of God's everlasting love," Day said. "The loss of loved ones and friends strengthens our faith and unites us in fellowship with Christ. It calls us toward greater efforts in peacemaking and reconciliation."

The World Council of Churches also sent a message of solidarity to the churches and people of Spain.

In his e-mail message, Mark Abbott asked for prayers for the victims, their families and even those behind the terror. Investigators are considering both Basque separatists, who have fought against the Spanish government for years, and Islamic terrorists as possible instigators for the attacks.

"When God confronted such evil in the person of Jesus, God did not respond with an air raid or land the marines or send a plague," he wrote. "God confronted inhumane and demonic evil with the Cross and thus broke the cycle of violence, hatred and revenge. May God give us the grace to walk the way of the Cross rather than the road of the Crusades."

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. News media can contact her at (646) 369-3759 or

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