A campaign recently launched by American charity Malaria No More places comedians at the forefront in the fight against Malaria, an infectious disease that still claims more than 850,000 lives annually across Africa. This simple premise combines celebrity appeal with humorous viral videos to raise awareness about the impact of malaria in Africa, and funds to invest in preventative measures ranging from the widespread distribution of mosquito nets and insecticidal sprays, to locally driven educational campaigns. The overarching goal: End malaria related deaths in Africa by 2015.
Comedy Fights Malaria is the most recent addition to a string of celebrity driven campaigns focused on halting the spread of malaria through the distribution of mosquito nets and educational materials. Spread the Net, a Canadian organization, has already donated over 500,000 nets to locations across sub-Saharan Africa thanks to the active involvement of celebrities including Rick Mercer, Ian Thornley, Tie Domi, and notable politicians including Liberian President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf, Glen Pearson, David Miller, and Belinda Stronach. Similarly, Nothing but Nets, championed by Mandy Moore among others, has donated over 3 Million nets.
Malaria No More joined this group last year after Ashton Kutcher donated $100,000 following a self driven campaign on Twitter, and encouraged other celebrities to come on board. The Comedy Fights Malaria campaign already features a plethora of celebrities including Aziz Ansari (“If malaria were a person I would kick it in the face!”), Will Arnett, Orlando Bloom, Ted Danson, Sarah Gilbert, Elliott Gould, Josh Groban, Rachel Harris, Jeremy Piven, and Jason Schwartzman.
Despite the growing list of celebrities signed up to contribute their talent to Comedy Fights Malaria, and indeed the fact that the organization’s work to date is impressive, one must ask, how appropriate is it to address serious and devastating health issues by, in short, poking fun at them?
In a 2008 edition of Third World Quarterly (Vol 29. No. 8) an article entitled “Development Made Sexy: How it happened and what it means” poses a question much along these lines. In it, Cameron and Haanstra suggest that “while the representation of development as sexy [predominantly through large-scale marketing campaigns and celebrity endorsements] avoids portrayals of poor people in the global South as helpless victims, it presents an image of development in which the most important form of agency is Northern charity.”
Below is one of the many video’s recently added to Malaria No More’s Youtube page. Check it out, and feel free to comment with your perspectives regarding this video/campaign, the role of celebrities in promoting development-related objectives, or the implications of such campaigns for those affected by malaria.