The British Ebola survivor Will Pooley will deliver the alternative Christmas message on Channel 4, calling for a global solution to the epidemic, which has so far cost more than 7,000 lives.
The nurse became the first Briton to be evacuated from west Africa with the disease when he was airlifted back to the UK for treatment in August this year.
He has since returned to Sierra Leone after making a full recovery and will deliver the broadcaster’s annual Christmas Day message from the Connaught hospital in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. “I don’t want to make you feel guilty, but I would like you to think just for a few minutes about what you could do to help,” he will tell viewers. “This is a global problem and it will take the world to fix it.”
Suffolk-born Pooley was working as a nurse at the heart of the Ebola epidemic when he was thrust on to the world stage.
He contracted the deadly virus six weeks after arriving in west Africa, becoming Britain’s first confirmed Ebola sufferer. “Ebola is unlike any disease I’ve ever witnessed. Nothing can prepare you for the effect it has on the infected, on their families and on their communities,” he says in the message, which has been pre-recorded.
“In the end I was extremely fortunate. My colleagues worked night and day to get me flown back to Britain for the best available treatment at the Royal Free in London. And thanks to this treatment I recovered within days. My exposure to this disease reinforced the belief that when people need help it’s important that it’s given.
“I realise I was incredibly lucky, lucky to be born in a wealthy country, lucky to be well educated, lucky to have access to the best possible treatment for this awful disease.
“Thousands of people here in west Africa have not had that luck. They have died often lonely, miserable deaths without access to proper medical attention.”
The nurse, who has criticised the Band Aid 30 charity single released to raise money for the crisis for “cringeworthy cultural ignorance”, adds: “This is a good time to think about the sheer fortune of where and when we happen to be born.
“If anything, Christmas should focus our minds on our kinship with people in all corners of the globe. We are all brothers and sisters. I’m sure we would all help a brother or sister in need.”
Channel 4 has broadcast an alternative to the Queen’s annual Christmas message to the nation and Commonwealth since 1993. Last year it was delivered by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, who called for an end to the mass surveillance revealed by his disclosures. Other previous speakers include Quentin Crisp, Jamie Oliver, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Jesse Jackson, Sacha Baron Cohen (as Ali G) and the Simpsons.
Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, said: “What a joy and honour it is for Channel 4 that William Pooley agreed to deliver this year’s Alternative Christmas Message; a message of love and hope which inspires.”
This year’s broadcast will be at 1.50pm on Christmas Day, before the Queen’s broadcast at 3pm on BBC1 and ITV.