Why Is It So Hard To Raise Money For Ebola In Africa?

U.S. Ebola coverage Wednesday focused on a dog being cleared. Why is it so hard to get any attention for West Africa?
Posted at 10:03 PM, Oct 22, 2014

With an estimated 20 deaths per day in Sierra Leone alone, the Ebola outbreak has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people — completely ravaging parts of West Africa. 

But American media has been more interested in the victims on U.S. soil, especially the furry ones.

KXAS: "We begin with breaking news about the Dallas nurse's dog that was tested for Ebola." 

KTVT: "Nurse Nina Pham's dog Bentley is clear of Ebola." 

WFAA: "He'll be tested again before the end of the 21-day quarantine period. The dog is under very special care." 

When news broke that nurse Nina Pham's dog would be quarantined and screened for Ebola, the Dallas Animal Service saw a flood of donations — setting up an emergency fund for any more dogs that would need to be isolated. 

But it makes for a bad visual: Americans donate to help one Dallas dog while aid organizations say they're having a tough time raising money for West Africa. Andrea Seabrook, founder of DecodeDC, framed it as a moral failing.

She writes, "To me it betrays something darker about ourselves: our blindness to the suffering of poor people, far away, our heliocentric ego and our seeming inability to prioritize the health of human beings in West Africa, in true danger of losing their families and villages ... over the health of one American patient’s dog." 

Whatever the reason, it's clear raising money to fight Ebola is further down America's list of priorities than aid workers would like.

For comparison, these numbers fromNPR show $1.4 billion was raised by charities in response to the earthquake in Haiti.  

Efforts to help victims of the Tsunami that hit parts of Asia in 2004 raised $1.6 billion. 

Then there's the Ebola outbreak. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a total of just $666 million has been raised worldwide, with the U.S. leading the effort. 

Just take a look at these headlines. Raising money has been a difficult challenge for organizationsall around the world

So just why is raising money so hard? NPR's Planet Money speculated it may have something to do with the nature of the crisis.

NPR: "The money that they need there is not to make things better. ... it would keep things from getting worse. ... People donate to disasters, they don't really donate for prevention."

But a charity analyst has a bit of a more cynical explanation,  telling USA Today, "Some people may have the view that Africa is so bad off already that any amount of aid is not really going to help."

Then there are more forgiving explanations, like The New York Times point that Americans aren't being asked to donate like they were in other disasters. "The relief agencies that typically seek donations after a catastrophe are mostly silent."

But there's still hope the outbreak can be contained. Wealthy donors like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are stepping in, as are governments around the world.

According to one Red Cross official, the organization is confident it can have the virus under control within six months. Unfortunately, the CDC estimated the total number of cases in the hardest-hit West African countries could climb up to 1.4 million by January.

This video includes images from Getty Images.