When the Centers for Disease Control called for emergency assistance to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen responded. In about 20 minutes. Part of his $100 million individual pledge transported 500 emergency health personnel and all of their equipment to the three countries where the disease was raging, and built pop-up treatment centers.
The rest of his money went toward a slew of out-of-the-box remedies. For example, it became clear that American medical workers were hesitant to travel to infected areas for fear they would not be medically evacuated if they fell ill. Allen’s solution? Build two portable medevac units and create a fund to pick up the costs of evacuation not covered by a medical worker’s insurance. The cost to the foundation? About $10 million.
As Ebola cases have receded, Allen’s focus on the disease has not. Last summer his foundation unveiled, along with the U.S. Department of State and MRIGlobal, a new “bio-containment system” for medevacs. Resembling a shipping container, this sick-passenger transportation unit can be loaded onto an airplane and delivered to the appropriate medical facility. Once the patients are delivered, only the shipping container will need to be decontaminated, rather than the entire airplane.
The foundation also recently announced another $11 million to beat back Ebola. Grants include $1.5 million to Baylor College of Medicine to design and build a more efficient and portable triage unit, $2.8 million to Becton, Dickinson, and Company to create a rapid diagnostic test, and $2.1 million to Chembio to create a diagnostic that not only detects Ebola, but also malaria, dengue, and other diseases using one patient sample.
When the CDC dedicated a new emergency operations center near Monrovia, Liberia, in September the director attributed much of the agency’s success at controlling the dangerous 2014 outbreak to Allen. As he convened an Ebola Innovation Summit last April, Allen explained that “I’ve been interested in solving how Ebola is transmitted since 2009 when I first funded research to better understand this vicious disease.” He added that “When I saw the early data around the Ebola outbreak in West Africa last year, I knew we were potentially facing a global health crisis unlike anything we had ever seen. I felt compelled to act.”