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Health, Science & Tech

Lack of Donations to Ebola Crisis Could be for Emotional Reasons

Ebola has killed thousands of people in West Africa — yet the absence of victims’ names and faces could be just one reason why large numbers of people have not been donating money to the fight the outbreak.

“Unlike many natural disasters that we have seen in the past with massive outpouring of donations support, we’re not seeing people making donations … it’s something that everybody’s talking about, but it’s not driving us to donate,” said Nicole Coleman, assistant professor of business and marketing at University of Pittsburgh.

Coleman said factors that tend to drive people to donate include: a personal connection to someone affected, organizations promoting certain individuals who have been affected, emotional visuals to represent the crisis, organizations asking for donations for the cause and a specific date in time that the crisis occurred, none of which have been very present during the Ebola outbreak.

“4,400 people at least have already died in West Africa ... when you talk about that many people, it’s just a number, and unless organizations do things to break that down, that number make it more relatable to us, it’s going to actually depress our donation rates,”  Coleman said.

She pointed to events such as Haiti’s 2010 earthquake or Japan’s 2011 tsunami, when people donated millions of dollars. Organizations such as the Red Cross began asking for donations almost immediately after the event, but Ebola doesn’t have a start point where millions were affected at once, instead the outbreak has been building since February. Also organizations pointed to specific individuals to show donors how their money would be used to better a life.

Also, Coleman said the coverage of the Ebola outbreak by the media has focused on the health workers in large hazmat suits, and probably for quarantine reasons not on patients, and this has led to inducing fear in the public, rather than sympathy that could cause them to donate. Also the scrutinization of health workers for contracting the disease has shifted the focus.

“It’s more about the political component of how we should be responding, rather than the human component of how we should be responding, and it’s that human component that’s going to cause people to engage in charitable behaviors,” said Coleman.   

Organizations such as the CDC, World Health Organization, or Doctors without Borders, according to Coleman, need to begin asking for people to donate through an emotional component.