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Idris Elba Joins Fight Against Ebola

The actor with Sierra Leone roots says 'he's going viral to fight the virus.'

ByABC News
September 23, 2014, 3:40 PM

— -- Idris Elba, the hunky actor from HBO's "The Wire" and BBC's "Luther," was in New York City on Monday to take on one of the most important roles of his life: The fight against the deadly Ebola virus raging through West Africa.

Elba, whose parents are from Sierra Leone, attended meetings to urge world leaders to do what is necessary to fight the Ebola crisis and invest in long-term prevention and treatment strategies. Among other things, he wrote an email to the 6 million global members of The ONE Campaign –- the advocacy organization co-founded by U2 frontman Bono –- calling on citizens to sign ONE’s petition urging leaders to step up and deliver on Ebola. So far, the petition has attracted 80,000 signers.

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"If you care about any part of the world you should care about Ebola –- I don’t know how else to spell it out," the actor told ABC News. "It's a very human problem, not just a regional one."

Elba, who was raised in New York, said he had never been to Sierra Leone but he has a lot of family there. He said he decided to help raise awareness for the Ebola crisis out of a sense of responsibility.

"I want to be careful not to sensationalize this because of who I am but I want to utilize my fame to give a message," Elba said. "I’m going viral to fight the virus, so to speak."

Elba said his plan was still in the embryonic stages. He's unsure about where he fits within the global effort to contain a disease that has already killed more than 2,600 people in West Africa, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Guinea.

A report out in today's New England Journal of Medicine estimates the virus has a fatality rate over 70 percent and if left unchecked, there could be 20,000 infected by November. Without the proper intervention, the outbreak could reach 1.4 million cases by the end of January, according to new estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One plan of action Elba said he is exploring is to put pressure on the mobile phone carriers in West Africa to send out text messages to educate the public about safety and prevention. He pointed out that more than 70 percent of people in Sierra Leone use a cell phone, so it would be an effective way of getting the word out.

Elba said he is hugely concerned about what happens next, especially with so many women, caregivers and young people hit with Ebola.

"I'm trying to help get people motivated and re-motivated by redesigning the message on the shop floor, so to speak," he said.