U.S. Ebola Case May Be Wake-Up Call Americans Need, Expert Says

Expert: U.S. Ebola Case May Be Wake-Up Call Americans Need

The first diagnosed case of Ebola in the U.S. sent shock waves through the American healthcare system on Tuesday, and experts say this may be the wakeup call that urges donors to take a more proactive role.

A patient who had traveled from Liberia to the U.S. tested positive for Ebola on Tuesday at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, according to CNN, and is now in serious condition, Reuters reported. Up until that point, the worst Ebola outbreak in history had been contained to West Africa, and donors had been reluctant to get involved in the crisis.

Now, an expert says this might be the tipping point that pushes philanthropists to get involved in a more meaningful way.

"It might generate a tremendous amount of media attention, which would spur donor involvement," Bob Ottenhoff, chief executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, told The Chronicle of Philanthropy on Tuesday.

Though the epidemic was deemed an “unprecedented crisis” back March and WHO concluded that recovery efforts would require $1 billion, donations have been dilatory, and barely matched the desperate call for help.

As of Sept. 15, documented pledges or donations totaled $326.7 million, according to data from the Financial Tracking Service, which is managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More than 60 percent of those funds only started pouring in September, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Donors have likely been reluctant to empty their wallets because the crisis has been gradually unraveling and the images of the suffering haven’t been moving enough to inspire supporters to take serious action.

"You see a lot of donor interest when you see something that is very visual," Jana Sweeney, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross, told ABC News.

And while contributions have been picking up in recent weeks, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $50 million last month, for example, funds are still troubingly low.

UNICEF, for example, appealed for $200 million to provide emergency assistance to children and families affected by the Ebola outbreak. So far, it has only received 25 percent of that amount, the organization said in a statement.

Another major hindrance, Ottenhoff noted, is that when donors see government agencies getting involved, they may assume that the "problem has now been addressed," he told The Chronicle. But even President Obama has said that governments alone can’t solve this crisis.

The U.S. is sending 3,000 military forces to West Africa to help combat the crisis, but Obama said in a recent address that he’ll need to collaborate with nonprofits and philanthropists to effectively contain the outbreak.

"We'll do our part, we'll continue our part. We cannot do this alone," Obama said on Thursday in his plea to world leaders to take a more active role. "We do not have the capacity to do all of this by ourselves."

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