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Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Thursday he would raise his Ebola-fighting investments to $100 million, with programs to train doctors in Massachusetts and to build special containment units to evacuate any who get infected.
Allen, the shyer sidekick of billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, wants to use the cash both to strategically help the fight against Ebola and to attract even more money.
“The Ebola virus is unlike any health crisis we have ever experienced and needs a response unlike anything we have ever seen,” Allen said in a statement. “To effectively contain this outbreak and prevent it from becoming a global epidemic, we must pool our efforts to raise the funds, coordinate the resources and develop the creative solutions needed to combat this problem. I am committed to doing my part in tackling this crisis.”
“We really wanted to increase the number of health care workers in West Africa."
Allen has already given $26 million to the effort. The World Health Organization has admitted it got off to a slow start in fighting Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It’s the first-ever epidemic of the virus, infecting at least 10,000 people and killing between half and 70 percent of them.
WHO says it's far from being under control and predicts tens of thousands of more cases. It's asked for $1 billion for the fight. The U.S. is spending $700 million and sending troops, supplies and expertise. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has kicked in $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation.
Dune Ives, who manages philanthropy for Allen’s umbrella corporation Vulcan Inc., says the two “safety cocoons” will go to the U.S. State Department, which only has one aircraft equipped now to evacuate Ebola patients. It was used to transport Nancy Writebol, Dr. Kent Brantly and NBC News freelance camera operator Ashoka Mukpo from Liberia when they became infected. All three have been released from hospital.
The two new units can fit into a larger jet, Ives said. The hope is to encourage more health care workers to go help in West Africa. They’re at high risk of infection and need to know they can get home for treatment if need be.
And there's a bad shortage of health care workers, especially trained doctors and nurses, in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Liberia's ambassador to the United States said the country has only 50 working doctors.
“We are really focused on how do we get out ahead of this crisis as fast as we can."
So Allen's foundation also is giving $7.5 million to the University of Massachusetts Medical School to train experts. “We really wanted to increase the number of health care workers in West Africa,” Ives said. The hope is to train doctors and other infectious disease specialists to start staffing up hospitals and clinics that have closed for lack of people.
“We are really focused on how do we get out ahead of this crisis as fast as we can,” Ives said.
Allen’s philanthropy has also set up a website, TackleEbola.com, to encourage people to give even small amounts to the response.
It’s also training journalists in countries bordering the Ebola-affected nations to help them learn to cover news of any spread accurately, without hype, Ives said. Allen had earlier given money to the BBC to educate and communicate in the affected countries.