Mark Zuckerberg, wife donate $25 million to fight Ebola: How much can it help?

The $25 million donation by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, tops contributions that entire countries have made. Still, the list of needs in fighting Ebola is long.

Julie Jacobson/AP/File
Facebook president and CEO Mark Zuckerberg walks to morning sessions with Priscilla Chan during the Allen and Co. Sun Valley Conference, in Sun Valley, Idaho. Zuckerberg and his wife, Chan, are donating $25 million to the CDC Foundation to help address the Ebola epidemic, the foundation said, Oct. 14.

How significant is the donation that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife are making to fight the Ebola outbreak?

Mr. Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook post Tuesday that he and Priscilla Chan are giving $25 million to the CDC Foundation, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to aid in the response to Ebola.

“We are hopeful this will help save lives and get this outbreak under control,” he wrote in the post.

The $25 million donation tops contributions that entire countries have made: Britain has donated $18.8 million, Germany $15.3 million, Australia $13.9 million, China $8.3 million, France $6.6 million, and Canada $4.3 million, according to the Financial Tracking Service, which is managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Observers from both the health industry and the philanthropy community say the contribution by Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan is extremely valuable – first for the resources it can supply, and also for the message it sends to other wealthy individuals, as well as countries.

“Yes, I believe that this contribution is a terrific step in the right direction,” says Robert Leggiadro, a biology instructor at Villanova University near Philadelphia and a former senior associate at the American College of Physicians.

But Dr. Leggiadro also says he isn’t sure how far the money will go because the list of needs is long, including training, education, personal protective equipment, and disinfectant kits.

“Based on what we are learning from the evolving Dallas experience,” he says, referring to the city with the first US patients diagnosed with Ebola, “there is still much to be done in the areas of education, as well as material and human resources.”

Zuckerberg, in fact, is not the first wealthy individual to make sizable donations in the fight against Ebola. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has given $20 million, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $50 million contribution to United Nations agencies and other international organizations involved in the Ebola response, according to Forbes.

Still, by Zuckerberg’s own standards, the $25 million contribution might not be quite as much as it may seem initially.

“[T]he lump sum, generous as it is, barely holds a candle to previous gifts from the social network founder,...” writes Nina Strochlic in The Daily Beast. She points out that Zuckerberg and Chan set a record for charitable giving in 2013 when they gave 18 million Facebook shares, worth more than $970 million, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Zuckerberg’s net worth is reportedly about $29.7 billion.

Maggi Alexander, director of the Center for Global Philanthropy at The Philanthropic Initiative, which is based in Boston, sees an opportunity for big donations to make a difference in the coordination of Ebola efforts.

“We need up-to-the-moment data, and a map of who is doing what and where.... [T]he West African health systems ultimately need to be strengthened,” she writes in an e-mail. “Zuckerberg and other tech funders could contribute so much by helping establish better systems of coordination and collaboration.”

At the least, many observers are hopeful that the contribution by Zuckerberg and Chan will encourage more giving and raise awareness.

“It seems generous to me and will spur others to give, certainly,” says Dr. Jeff Ritter, professor of health services at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. The Ebola outbreak has “become a critical topic ... and certainly needs to be addressed, and when a high-profile individual like this gives support, it brings much helpful attention to the fact that we need to be prepared as much as possible.”

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