As President Barack Obama told reporters that “we are nowhere near out of the woods yet” with Ebola, two big-name billionaires committed to pledging $5.7 million in the fight against the deadly virus.
Bill and Melinda Gates are searching for a way to enhance the treatment of Ebola-infected patients with a variety of research projects, according to a press release published Tuesday by their organization. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working with national health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine specific trial designs and locations, will fund tests on experimental drugs and collect blood plasma from Ebola survivors to treat victims in West Africa, where the deadly virus remains a serious threat. The philanthropic couple will invest in treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines believed to be produced and delivered quickly.
“We are committed to working with Ebola-affected countries to rapidly identify and scale up potential lifesaving treatments for Ebola,” said Dr. Papa Salif Sow, a senior program officer and infectious diseases expert with the foundation’s Global Health Program.
The largest Ebola outbreak in history has affected thousands of people throughout West Africa since March, when 49 cases were first detected in Guinea. More than 5,000 people have died worldwide from the disease, and almost 10,000 cases have been identified, according to WHO, which notes that there is widespread under-reporting. Obama on Tuesday urged Congress to approve his request for $6.2 billion in emergency funds to fight the virus.
Dr. Martin Salia, a U.S. resident who was infected with Ebola in his native Sierra Leone before being transferred for treatment at Nebraska Medical Center, died on Monday. He was the 10th Ebola victim to receive care in the United States, and the second person to die from the disease in the country.
Thomas Eric Duncan was the first Ebola patient to die on American soil. Two nurses who treated Duncan — Amber Vinson and Nina Pham — contracted Ebola after caring for him. They were both deemed “virus-free” and released from hospitals last month. Another infected patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, was released from Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City last week after being cleared of the deadly disease.
American doctors and nurses, along with representatives from humanitarian groups, have been traveling to the West African region since the beginning of the crisis. Some U.S. states have imposed mandatory quarantines on returning medical personnel, but federal health officials have called for less severe measures.
The Gateses typically focus their philanthropy on eliminating poverty and improving health and education in countries around the world. In an unusual move earlier this year, though, they donated $1 million to Initiative 594. The policy, passed by residents in Washington during the recent midterm elections, requires criminal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers in the state.