With Ebola cases in West Africa approaching 2,000 and deaths form the virus reaching almost 900 people, the outbreak has spurred tsunami-scale coverage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Ebola has spread in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and has started to appear in Nigeria.
This is a tragic situation. Fears of further spreading, even beyond Africa, have prompted travel bans and canceled flights to the affected region. An additional layer of challenge is that many non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are pulling personnel and program capacity out of those areas when health workers, experts, devices, and financial resources are most needed.
What can you do to help provide prevention and treatment options for West Africans, halt the spread, and build better health systems in the region?
Well, you'll need to do a bit of homework.
First of all, if you're already a donor to an organization that works in Africa, you might contact the organization and ask whether it or its partners are involved in the effort. After all, if you know and trust the organization already, that will be the most expedient course.
If you don't already donate to, or volunteer for, an organization with Africa programs, here's a short list of NGOs that are responding to the Ebola outbreak. It's not comprehensive, so look around the Web for other options.
Then, as a smart giver, you'll need to do a bit of research to assess which organization you want to fund. It's easy to find out about organizations' performance, starting with their own websites and then through nonprofit evaluation sites on the Web. You'll also need to decide how giving fits into your existing plan for philanthropy -- the amount you want to give, in what form (cash gift, transfer of stock, foundation grant, or donor-advised fund, for example), and over what period of time (a one-time gift, monthly, and so on).
If you have ancestral ties to that part of the continent, you might consider a substantial gift in recognition of August as Black Philanthropy Month. But regardless of your lineage, if you're disturbed by all of the news reports about Ebola and are feeling saddened or fearful, the best thing you can do is take some kind of action. It will make a difference in West Africa, and you won't be just a bystander to a tragedy.