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Why There's No Viral Fundraiser to Help Fight Ebola

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- During the worst-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a viral fundraiser has encouraged people to donate millions to combat another deadly yet rare disease.

That disease is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease.

For Ebola there has been no massive influx of donations to help respond to the outbreak that has infected 2,615 and killed 1,427 in four West African countries.

Compared to past natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan, relief agencies say the response to the Ebola outbreak has been much more tepid.

“We’ve raised a tenth of donations we received following the typhoon in the Philippines,” said Kevin Allan, the senior vice president at the U.S. relief organization AmeriCares. “More resources are needed to do our work.”

One reason for the lack of donations is that images of an Ebola outbreak aren't as visually striking as scenes of destruction from natural disasters.

Jana Sweeney, spokesperson for the American Red Cross, said historically natural or man-made disasters usually lead to a high influx of donations.

“You see a lot of donor interest when you see something that is very visual,” said Sweeney. “Natural disaster threatens everyone. A disease that has been confined to Africa doesn’t [affect] people in the U.S. as much.”

Sweeney said people may also be less inclined to donate because they do not realize the countries affected have a severe lack of medical infrastructure.

“I think for Americans [with] health issues, they would think of as being handled by a ministry of health or a government,” said Sweeney.

Sweeney said the organization will let people donate to specific causes when they see an interest from people to do so. Due in part to the lack of interest and lack of need, Sweeney said the American Red Cross has no plans to create a designated donation page for Ebola.

If people want to donate specifically to the Red Cross response to the Ebola outbreak, they can download a form that allows them to specify where they want their money to go.

In addition to the Red Cross, one of the biggest international relief agencies on the ground in West Africa, Doctors Without Borders, is not accepting donations solely ear-marked to Ebola relief because it could hurt their ability to respond to disasters.

Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders (also known by its French initials MSF), said earmarked donations can slow down their disaster response as they have to wait for specific funds to come in rather than drawing from an overall pool of funds.

“We want to be able to have sufficient cash flow to respond to an emergency right away and not wait to have earmarked funding to come,” said Delauney.

In rare cases, Delaunay said the organization will set up a donation page for a specific event due to overwhelming interest, but even then the money can cause problems.

After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Delauney said MSF received more than 110 million euros in just a few days. However, the organization quickly realized they could not use all of the money in response to the disaster, so they painstakingly contacted each person who donated to make sure the funds could be used elsewhere.

Delauney said part of the problem with the Ebola outbreak is that just raising money isn't enough. It is a complicated problem spanning multiple countries and governments. While the MSF have 1,000 people on the ground, they’re working on finding more people and supplies to treat the patients that are now overwhelming existing treatment centers.

“As soon as we expand our activity we need to be able to ensure the appropriate level for human resources there,” said Delauney. “I’m not worried about financial resources, I think we will get the support financially. From a human point of view, it’s more complex.”

Not all organizations have shied away from raising funds for Ebola. The University of California San Francisco is working to raise $100,000 for medical supplies to be sent to a clinic in Sierra Leone that was started by a UCSF professor.

An anonymous donor has agreed to match all donations more than $250 and up to $50,000.

In addition AmeriCares, the U.S. based non-profit emergency response and global health organization that distributed medical and humanitarian aid, is accepting donations pegged specifically to helping treat to treat the Ebola outbreak.

Donations to Doctors Without Borders can be made here.

Donations to the American Red Cross can be made here.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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