Months into an uphill battle against Ebola, tech company Google has joined the fight in the form of a sizeable donation. In fact, Google has already met its donation cap of $7.5 million after pledging to match every dollar donated with $2 of its own. In addition to the $5 million donated by the company and the $2.5 million it received, Google CEO Larry Page donated $15 million to the cause through a family foundation, according to NPR.
The money will go to various organizations fighting Ebola in West Africa, including Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health, the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children. According to Google’s blog, the company donated another $10 million to various other organizations fighting Ebola. The donation campaign came from the company’s nonprofit arm, Google.org, which is involved in supporting San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits, improving education in computer science, fighting abuse and trafficking, and the empowerment of women and girls.
In an interview with NPR, Google.org’s Director Jacquelline Fuller said the company will also be sending an engineering team to work with Doctors Without Borders to develop mobile tools that might assist in the effort. When asked why Google chose the Ebola fight as its first donation-seeking platform, Fuller said the company had not seen as much public response to the outbreak as it had during other disasters, and it seemed like the right move to raise awareness while asking the public to join the fight.
Google is not the only Silicon Valley star to step up to the plate. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently pledged $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assist the fight. The Washington Post called Zuckerberg’s involvement “an important step,” but added that what is really needed to gain the upper hand in the battle is what Silicon Valley does best: technology. The Post calls for the leaders of the technological industry to create systems to manage, prevent and track pandemics.
Aid efforts and humanitarian technologies are not beyond the companies’ imagining. According to Time magazine, the company plans to make a contact lens for diabetics that would track their glucose levels, as well as a pill that could diagnose cancer, while Facebook is in the process of developing solar-powered drones that would provide Internet access to under-developed regions. Vice president at International Medical Corps, Rebecca Milner called Silicon Valley’s humanitarian response “unprecedented.”
The United Nations declared an “international public health emergency” in response to the Ebola outbreak in August, and by September the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that international response had fallen well behind the pace of new cases. The most recent—though admittedly conservative—figures from the WHO claim that Ebola deaths have now surpassed 5,000 and there have been at least 14,000 reported cases altogether. Liberia recently saw some gains over the virus and reported that around two-thirds of beds in the nation’s treatment centers are now empty, according to the BBC.
When asked about what role, if any, the company plans to play in future crises, Fuller said it depends on the circumstances. Google would be happy to remain in the background in the future if the international community is willing to step up and fight, but in the case of Ebola, the company felt they had a role to play in the joint effort.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa