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Blair Names 30 Interfaith Fellows to Tackle Malaria

(RNS) The foundation started by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has named 30 interfaith fellows, including 12 Americans, to raise awareness about efforts to fight malaria in Africa.
The fellows are expected to receive training in London and Chicago, to travel to Mali, Malawi and Tanzania in Africa to view humanitarian efforts against malaria, and to then begin their work in the United States.
They probably will meet with Blair, who served as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, a few times during the 10-month fellowship.
Blair, in a conference call today with reporters, stressed that malaria deaths are preventable and that he thinks the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation fellows will spread positive messages about religious faith.
“What a lot of people read about religious faith today is basically negative,” he said. “It’s about people fighting each other. It’s about people being divided in a sectarian way. … The purpose of this program is to show how important faith can be in doing something positive and constructive and compassionate.”
“We will have people of different faiths together, so the interfaith idea is right at the heart of the program,” he said. “What they become in a sense is ambassadors for an interfaith fight against malaria.”
The stated goal is for each fellow to reach at least 1,000 people about malaria. Blair, who in 2007 left the Anglican Church and converted to Roman Catholicism, said he hopes the fellows can inspire people at churches, synagogues, temples and mosques to donate to anti-malaria campaigns.
“My own experience of faith communities is, when they have something explained to them, and people go in and say, `Look, I’ve seen this on the ground. This is what happens; this is what we can do,’ there’s a huge well of compassion and commitment that’s there,” Blair said. “But it needs to be drawn by people who’ve got the experience.”
Two American fellows, Rutgers University student Avi Smolen and Randa Kuziez of the Washington-area Muslim Students Association, will work to educate youth groups, reach out to religious communities, and develop programs to promote awareness of malaria’s toll in Africa, where it kills an estimated 1 million people a year, most of them children.
“My passion is social justice work, and that’s why I’m very excited about this fellowship,” said Smolen, a student at Rutgers University. “I hope my experience in the fellowship can give me an opportunity to see what policy work in D.C. is like.”
By Jeff Diamant
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • nnmns

    Without Tony Blair GWB might not have been able to get us into Iraq. If we hadn’t done that we’d probably have had enough American troops to catch Bin Laden at Tora Bora and we’d surely have left enough troops in Afghanistan to win that war and put Afghanistan on a good track. That might have prevented the build up of radical Muslims that’s threatening Pakistan part by part now.
    Tony Blair was an enabler for a lot of the trouble the world is in now; he has a lot to answer for. This is a small start.

  • pagansister

    A worthy goal….and it can only help. It’s sad that a disease that can be prevented is still so prevalent in Africa.

  • Henrietta22

    I thought the fight against Malaria was started in the 40’s, and was contained for decades. What happened? Blair is doing a worthy thing, I imagine being a new RC has a lot to do with his new efforts.

  • Henrietta22

    Did you know you can pick up Malaria from an infected person if the germ gets into a cut on your finger? My Aunt said she did in the late forties, probably by holding onto an escalator rail in N.Y.C., at least that is what her doctor told her.

  • nnmns

    Henrietta I can’t say that’s wrong but the Wikipedia article on malaria only talks about transmission via mosquitoes. Apparently it used to be a significant problem in the US before more was done to reduce mosquitoes.
    They say it’s had perhaps the strongest of any “recent” affect on the human genome due to how many of us it’s killed. Think sickle cell disease; having one parent contributing a certain gene means you’ll have much more resistance to malaria but having two such parents means you get the disease and probably die. Where malaria is endemic that’s apparently a good trade off, on average.

  • jestrfyl

    A nice gesture that may well have a good effect. This is an ancient problem that will need constant vigilance. What we really need, though, is to do something about availability and maintenance of clean water and personal hygiene – even in the deep outback. I am not talking sudsy baths and deodorant – simply having something healthy to drink and keeping hands clean enough for food prep and eating.

  • Henrietta22

    Nnmns I checked my Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary-20, and Malaria is very involved so I won’t try to explain all. There are four different Malaria-causing organisms. Each of these has its own geographic distribution, incubation period, symptoms, and treatment. It has been virtually eliminated from the temperate climates. The malaria parasite is transmitted by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito, and although uncommon can be given in a transfusion, sharing of needles during use. Evidently under the right circumstances such as my Aunts it is able to be transmitted by a person who has the disease. Also not all Malaria causes symptoms, so a person can pass it on if they have been infected. As many as half a billion people may be infected with the disease worldwide; at least 50 million new infections occur annually. In the U.S. fewer than 1500 cases are diagnosed each year.

  • nnmns

    Very serious stuff! I, probably we, don’t give it much thought because it rarely happens around here but I guess it could. In any case it would be very good for the world to mobilize against it. The world hasn’t mobilized for some time and there are several things we need to beat.

  • Confessoressa

    The world will mobilize when the aliens come…until then, the fact that we’re all humans holds no weight! 😉

  • jestrfyl

    Beware of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Humans are mere meatballs on the triple cheese pasta of life (side of salad only 1.99).

  • Heather DuBois

    This is an excellent example of how religious people can work together for the common good. In addition to helping combat malaria, this initiative will help strengthen bonds between faiths, an important step in stemming religious conflict. As Mr. Blair states, these positive interfaith stories need support and widespread dissemination.

  • cknuck

    Many of my fellow staff members have malaria; we do a lot of humanitarian where it is prevalent. I love to see other faiths in the field, maybe I’ll see more of that now.

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