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10/27/2014

Ebola: where is the rock concert benefit?

by Arthur Caplan, PhD and Nir Eyal, D.Phil

Ebola’s toll is rising exponentially. Millions of lives are at risk in West Africa, and panic is starting to take its toll in the rest of the world.

Normally in a crisis like this our best charitable impulses pour forth. Especially among musicians, Hollywood and artists. So why aren’t fund-raising drives taking place? Where are the rock concerts, fashion shows, triathlons we saw for famines and for AIDS? Why the extreme paucity of small private donations?

Some may think donations won’t help. Of course they would.

Donations could buy protective equipment and disinfectant for health personnel and for home care givers. Money can help pay for travel costs for health care workers and for building more isolation beds. Money will also get clean water and better sanitation to the very poor.

Donations could also pay for health workers’ time, so that more workers may be hired and heroic existing workers are not tempted to leave, or to strike for hazard pay.

In fact, donations would facilitate hiring and retention in more ways than one. Take the following—huge—example. The UN currently estimates that more than 120,000 women could die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone over the coming year unless life-saving emergency obstetric care is urgently provided. A major bottleneck here is that without proper protective gear, even certified midwives are too afraid to provide emergency obstetric care—to any woman.

But with proper education, protective gear and training—that may be another story.

And with properly equipped and properly staffed clinics, fledgling public trust in clinics and in health personnel may improve. Pleas to use protective measures will become more widely respected and accepted.

So using donations to buy equipment could address several bottlenecks to success against Ebola. Buying proper safety equipment, in particularly, could help convince local and visiting health workers to do what they basically want to do—save patients’ lives and stop the epidemic. And safer clinics could help us convince an increasingly nervous public outside West Africa that the heroes who volunteer are both admirable pose very little threat to the rest of us.

But getting funds raised won’t happen on its own. For small private donors to band together and pay for the needed safety equipment and for more, they must be educated about their potential impact and about the difference that together they could make. They need information, motivation, and assurance that others will be equally excited.

Big rock concerts on major networks and the internet could do all that. They stand some chance of turning the tide against Ebola and saving thousands and thousands of lives. We need more doctors and nurses in that fight. We also need more celebrities, producers and musicians.

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