Ebola Outbreak: How Can I Help? An Update & Focus on Liberia

Ebola_CentersIn this post, we provide a brief update on the Ebola crisis, criteria for selecting organizations to support, and specific opportunities for you to help.

The Situation

Since August (see our first entry on the crisis: Ebola Outbreak: How Can I Help?), the scale of the Ebola crisis has expanded dramatically. The most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that over 8,000 people have now caught the virus, leading to more than 3,500 deaths. The stigma attached to Ebola and the lack of beds at treatment centers mean that the real toll is thought to be as much as three times this number. Experts predict that, in a worst-case scenario, as many as 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by the end of January 2015. Hard-hit countries in West Africa include Guinea and Sierra Leone. This post focuses on Liberia where the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate, posing an urgent need for containment.

For many observers of the growing crisis, the question now is “How can I help?”

Criteria for identifying organizations to support

There are two types of organizations needed to make a meaningful difference:

1) The first are the larger, international aid organizations that bring specialized skills and critical experience gained from work in previous disasters and in other regions. Unlike smaller, local groups, these organizations can more readily access global sources for the volume of supplies and trained personnel necessary to address a crisis of this magnitude.

2) The second are local organizations working on the ground, in coordination with the larger, external aid organizations and the government. In disaster situations like the one in Liberia, the needs are urgent and evolving. Lack of infrastructure and trust inhibit efforts to address the need.  Local organizations with the following characteristics can overcome those barriers:

  • Local knowledge to mobilize quickly since time is of the essence in containing the spread of the disease.
  • Trusted by those affected by the disaster. This is especially important in the case of Ebola where fear and mistrust have already led to the lack of effective treatment of many patients and to the deaths of health workers in Guinea.
  • Ability to reach beyond the major urban centers. As in other disaster situations (e.g., Typhoon Haiyan), international aid groups operating out of the big cities are often unable on their own to reach those farther from the urban centers.
  • Systems to account for spending since the chaos of disasters can invite corruption and misuse of donor funds.

Taking action: Opportunities to Help

With these criteria in mind and working in close collaboration with the Accountability Lab, a civil society organization in Liberia, we have identified the following opportunities for donors seeking to support anti-Ebola efforts.

International aid organizations operating on the ground in Liberia:

Medecins Sans Frontiers is an independent, international humanitarian organization that provides emergency medical aid in the hardest-to-serve regions of the world, such as those affected by armed conflict, natural disasters, and epidemics. It is coordinating with the Red Cross, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and International Medical Corps to set up Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) and beds. Given the current lack of sufficient ETUs and beds, Medecins San Frontier teams are also distributing more than 50,000 family protection and home disinfection kits to offer some protection to those who have a family member affected. To support their efforts, click here.

Save the Children is working holistically to build health centers, provide training to health workers and supply protective equipment to those that need it in Liberia. Importantly, they are also working to care for the increasing number of Ebola orphans, and putting 10% of donations towards a fund for the next emergency- ensuring that we will be better prepared to handle a crisis of this sort in the future, a strategy we have highlighted in previous disaster relief guidance. Donate here.

Organizations working to increase the number of health-workers trained and effectively deployed:

Last Mile Health is a community health organization that has been working in rural parts of Liberia for many years. As a result, it has the relationships and networks in place to provide care even under the most difficult of circumstances.  The team has now partnered with the Liberian government to train frontline health workers and educate communities to prevent further spread of the virus.  You can support these efforts by donating here.

The Humanitarian Open Street Map Team (HOT) is mapping cases of Ebola across Liberia and the other Ebola affected countries. It is essential that those infected are quickly located so that the chain of transmission can be broken. First-responder organizations like Medicines Sans Frontiers and the Red Cross are using these maps to deliver their assistance. Support the HOT team here.

Local Liberian organizations spreading awareness about the virus to reduce infection rates:

ActionAid Liberia, an organization that has been working for many years in Liberia, is now training volunteers to spread awareness about Ebola and how Liberians can keep themselves safe. Their awareness efforts have put particular emphasis on overcoming the stigma that is preventing accurate reporting of the virus. You can donate through their US partner page here.

Kriterion Monrovia is a Liberian organization run by students that has mobilized to support Ebola awareness messaging across the country. The key to their success is the fact that their voices are known to be authentic, and are therefore listened to by the population affected.  You can donate to Kriterion Monrovia through the Niapele Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit, here.

The situation on the ground in Liberia is evolving rapidly- we will provide further updates as needed over the coming months.

Related resources to learn more about the outbreak:

Centers for Disease Control, An Overview of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
BBC News, Why Ebola is so dangerous?
New York Times, What Are the Chances Ebola Will Spread in the United States?
Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Ebola Disaster Profile