When the Ebola virus struck West Africa last year, no one could predict that just over a year later, there would be over 12,000 confirmed cases of infection and nearly 6,500 deaths attributed to the virus. Early in the outbreak, many funders jumped in to combat the spread of the disease and treat those infected. In particular, the tech community gave big.
Google cofounder Larry Page put in for $15 million, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made close to $50 million in Ebola related grants, and Mark Zuckerberg pledged $25 million to help combat the disease. The biggest donor to date, however, has been Paul Allen.
Last Fall, Allen launched the Tackle Ebola Campaign with an initial $20 million in grants. By late October, Allen surprised everyone in the global health community by announcing a commitment of at least $100 million to combat Ebola.
Allen’s battle plan for Ebola so far is attacking the disease on all fronts and from every flank. Initially, Allen wrote big checks to huge organizations like the CDC Foundation, UNICEF, the American Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders. He then learned that health care workers and volunteers in the area were concerned that they could not be evacuated in a timely manner should they contract the disease. So Allen committed $6.5 million to build two portable medivac units.
Allen then teamed up with the U.S. State Department and put in for $5 million to establish a public-private partnership for the purpose of developing a next generation biocontainment unit. Each flight-ready unit can contain the spread of highly contagious pathogens while providing the safe and secure transport of people. The first unit was recently unveiled at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia.
Although the cases of Ebola have clearly abated, health care workers and volunteers working in hotspots remain concerned that they will not have access to medical evacuation should they get sick. These concerns are also posing considerable challenges in recruiting new health care workers and volunteers to work in Ebola hotspots. This recruiting challenge is one of the main reasons why Allen at the State Department came together to develop next generation biocontainment units.
It seems as though the idea for these next-gen units was born out of the global public health challenge of containing Ebola. So far, those containment efforts haven’t been met with a 100 percent success rate, as a few new cases of the disease have cropped up recently in Guinea and Sierra Leone.
On the surface, it may seem like building state-of-the-art medivac units isn’t really fighting Ebola on the frontlines. However, it’s a bit terrifying to think of how quickly the disease could spread again if the international health community is unable to recruit enough medical professionals to treat current Ebola patients.