Our world has never experienced an Ebola epidemic like the one happening in West Africa right now. While it took time for the global community to realize the enormity of this disaster and mobilize a large response, many governments, nonprofit organizations, companies, and medical workers have stepped up in unprecedented ways to combat this crisis.
We are beginning to see glimmers of hope that this deadly virus can be stopped, but much work remains to be done. It is time now for Americans, as individuals, to step up and show their compassion for the people of West Africa. This #GivingTuesday, December 2, let's focus our generosity on stopping Ebola once and for all. Maybe its Ebola's turn for an ice bucket moment.
As many of us know, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that started in late March has spread across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone at a rate that has shocked public health officials. This Ebola epidemic has proven to be the world's deadliest to date killing more than 5,400 people, with over 15,000 cases reported. The disease has infected 588 health workers and killed 337, including doctors and nurses.
In a region where there aren't enough health workers, Liberia and Sierra Leone didn't stand a chance. These countries had weak health systems before the crisis that allowed the virus to spread rapidly. Doctors and nurses routinely rationed even the most basic safety supplies such as gloves because they didn't have enough to go around. Health workers are the front lines in the fight against deadly disease and the spread of epidemics. Keep them safe, confident, and on the job and we have a shot at controlling outbreaks like Ebola. Fail to do that and they die. And the epidemic spreads.
The monetary cost of the fight to contain Ebola remains to be seen. No doubt, the totals will be staggering. But we need to do whatever it takes to stop this epidemic in West Africa. Financial support is the only way to keep it from spreading to other parts of the world, including right here at home.
#GivingTuesday is the perfect cyber-counterbalance to Black Friday and emphasizes giving back in this era of mass consumption. The movement encourages people to take part in this international day of giving by donating to their favorite non-profit organization, or volunteering their time to help their community.
Long before #GivingTuesday came to be and before folks poured buckets of ice water on their heads for a cause (full-disclosure: I poured a bucket on mine), my wife Jane and I discovered a different kind of charity, AmeriCares. We heard the story about its founder and his wife who mortgaged their house to rent a 747 and rescue 243 Vietnamese orphans, stranded after a plane crash at the end of the Vietnam War. We were impressed by the organization's efficiency and its ability to act effectively and without delay. More than 97% of all donations go directly to those in need and Charity Navigator gives it a 4-star rating. Jane and I have supported the organization for nearly 20 years as it responded to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, the Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Sandy, last year's typhoon in the Philippines and now, the humanitarian crisis in Ebola-ravaged West Africa.
AmeriCares' experience, expertise and commitment has already had a huge impact in the fight against Ebola. The organization is providing much-needed medical teams for Ebola treatment units. It is sending huge volumes of medicines and supplies to support health care workers in West Africa (4 million relief items including personal protective equipment for health workers, medicines and supplies). And plans are under way for strengthening the devastated health care systems over the long term.
Of course, charities need our help year round. Every day should be #GivingTuesday when it comes to surviving natural catastrophes and man-made disasters. Each year tens of thousands of lives are lost as a result of hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons and other disasters. This year, Ebola will add to that toll.
This post is part of a series produced in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2014) on December 2. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. The Huffington Post will feature posts on #GivingTuesday all month in November. To see all the posts in the series, visit here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.