While the world waited, West Africans took action against Ebola

Two new PSAs are out to raise money and awareness for the Ebola outbreak. Seen together, they expose how major players like the United States and the World Health Organization were slow to react. The ONE Campaign depicts various artists, activists, health workers and people affected by Ebola silently looking at the camera. “We’ve waited too long. Use your voice to fight Ebola now,” says the video as it links to a petition urging world leaders to act now.

It came out at the same time as a new PSA from Africa Responds. Taken together, the two show how local action went unnoticed and the international community took too long to provide needed support. They also stand in sharp contrast to the revival of Band Aid’s “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” featuring new artists and lyrics. Critics assailed Band Aid for continuing demeaning tropes about Africa and shunning the voices of Africans.

ONE’s video uses celebrities, like Band Aid, but they are silent this time around. The silence is meant to show it is time for action, not cheap words. The Africa Responds video features the voices of African diaspora who are taking action. Africa Responds is trying to add value by supporting the response at the community level. It is about making sure that the people who were the first to respond can continue to do so. That is reflected in the video that they released on the same day as ONE’s.

ONE also released a new interactive Ebola tracker. Users can investigate how countries, major institutions, the private sector and philanthropists are doing in regards to supporting the Ebola response. The United States, for example, has made pledges totaling $572 million, yet only disbursed 43 percent of the sum. It is the most money made available by any country, but not the best when it comes to comparing against Gross National Income. The U.K. holds the honor of giving the most based on national income.

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It did take a long time for the international community to ramp up its actions. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders were on the ground almost immediately, but it took roughly half of a year for the needed funding increase to try and catch up to the out of control spread of Ebola. While that happened, and has attracted a lot of attention, Liberians, Guineans and Sierra Leoneans did not wait. From caring for sick family members to working as volunteers to track cases, people in each of the affected countries did not wait around.

However, the greater African diaspora was slow to act.

“Initially the diaspora from the affected countries mobilized quickly, held fundraisers and meetings,” said Solome Lemma, co-founder of Africa Responds to Humanosphere. “The greater African diaspora were a bit slower, including ourselves. We tried to figure out where we added the best value, not just make noise.”

This is just the beginning for Africa Responds in its work on Ebola and other issues that affect Africa. By activating the diaspora and supporting communities, Lemma and the rest of the Africa Responds team hopes to bring forward the ways that West Africans, and all Africans for that matter, are helping themselves.

“We called it Africa Responds intentionally, because we thought it was a platform where the diaspora can respond in the future,” explained Lemma. “We’ve been very active before, but never had a platform like this. We hope to be able to respond much more quickly and effectively in the future.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.