Why There's No Viral Fundraiser to Help Fight Ebola

PHOTO: A staffer for Doctors Without Borders suits up in protective clothing before entering a high-risk area of the MSF Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.
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While aid organizations need funds to fight the worst-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa, officials say a lack of interest has made it difficult to highlight the need for more money and medical supplies.

Since March, the virus has killed 1,427 people and infected 2,615. The World Health Organization said Friday that there is not enough staff, supplies and equipment to keep up with the flood of patients.

“We’ve raised a tenth of donations we received following the typhoon in the Philippines,” said Kevin Allan, the senior vice president at the U.S. relief organization AmeriCares, which provided medical and humanitarian aid after that 2013 disaster. “More resources are needed to do our work.”

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One reason for the tepid philanthropic response to the Ebola outbreak is that large aid agencies like the American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders have decided against creating dedicated donation pages for their Ebola responses, partly due to a lack of interest from people outside Africa.

“You see a lot of donor interest when you see something that is very visual,” said Jana Sweeney, spokesperson for the American Red Cross.

PHOTO: A staffer for Doctors Without Borders admits new patients to the MSF Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.
John Moore/Getty Images
PHOTO: A staffer for Doctors Without Borders admits new patients to the MSF Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.

Sweeney said that when people see a disaster happen slowly over time — especially a disease outbreak - they’re usually less likely to open up their wallets.

“A disease that has been confined to Africa doesn’t [affect] people in the U.S. as much,” she said.

Although Ebola is not currently in the U.S., one in four Americans is afraid the outbreak could arrive in the country next year, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.

Photos of the outbreak zone haven't led to a call to donate, a far cry from the "ice bucket challenge" helping battle another deadly disease, ALS, that's currently filling social media. Everyone from Justin Bieber to Tom Hanks has taken on the viral challenge to raise awareness and money to treat ALS.

Another reason for the lukewarm response to the Ebola outbreak is that people in western countries like the U.S. may not realize local governments lack the medical infrastructure to fight the virus, according to Sweeney.

“I think for Americans [with] health issues, they would think of this as being handled by a ministry of health or a government,” said Sweeney.

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