Allen Foundation Shifts Ebola Response Focus

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, which pledged $100 million last October to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, is shifting its focus to long-term recovery efforts in the region, the Seattle Times reports.

One of the first private donors to step up as the outbreak flared last summer, Allen quickly raised his commitment from $26.5 million to at least $100 million, including funding for two medevac containment units and, at a time when medical professionals were reluctant to travel to West Africa, the transport of medical staff should they become infected. With approximately $39 million of its commitment left to disburse, the foundation is now focusing on ensuring that fragile gains in containing the virus aren't lost and on helping the region's battered healthcare systems recover and prepare for future outbreaks.

"The emergency is still there...but it's pivoting into the recovery phase," said Gabrielle Fitzgerald, director of the foundation's Ebola initiative. In addition to funding temporary emergency-operations centers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the foundation is paying for the construction and initial operation of permanent centers that will be equipped with high-end communication systems and technology, enabling local governments to better coordinate their response to future epidemics and natural disasters.

One of Allen's goals from the start was to fund programs that would yield benefits after the crisis had passed, Alexa Rudin, a communications manager at the Microsoft co-founder's holding company, Vulcan, told the Seattle Times. For instance, the head of Stratolaunch Systems, a Vulcan project to build the world's biggest aircraft, led the work on the medevac units and transportation initiative — an effort that not only helped address the immediate need for volunteer medical staff but also will be useful in addressing future epidemics. And in Liberia, a coalition led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School is using part of a $7.5 million grant from the foundation to provide personal protective gear to twenty-four general hospitals and set up labs at two hospitals to diagnose Ebola and other diseases more quickly. The foundation's priorities going forward, said Fitzgerald, include bolstering infection control at hospitals across the region, improving lab facilities, and continuing work on a quick diagnostic test for the virus.

"The Allen Foundation really worked to identify needs and gaps early on," said Stephanie Bluma, deputy administrator for public affairs at USAID. "They've been fast and they’ve been flexible in adapting to what has been a changing situation."

Sandi Doughton. "Allen Foundation Responds Nimbly as Ebola Epidemic Shifts." Seattle Times 02/07/2015.