More than 4,000 people have died from Ebola as of Oct. 8, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and international air travel has already carried at least one infected traveler outside of West Africa.
The three West African nations hit hardest by the Ebola pandemic have seen a dramatic reduction in airline service. But there’s one group of travelers—medical aid workers—who urgently want to reach the affected countries to help patients and disrupt transmission of the virus.
“It is difficult to get people in and out,” says Ian Rodgers, director of operational support and preparedness for Save the Children in Washington, D.C. His NGO is currently operating at 60 percent of full staff in the Ebola-hit region.
Given the collision of airline cutbacks and a surge of relief workers and cargo to the region, several NGOs are discussing the need for a potential charter service to help bypass the shortage of commercial options. That’s usually how aid workers get to and from areas wracked by war or earthquakes. As more health workers in Africa potentially contract the disease, Rodgers believes organizations will be keen to establish a reliable way to evacuate those workers.
The charter route has been used in recent weeks to transport medical supplies and other equipment to Liberia and Sierra Leone, funded by a $3 million donation from billionaire Paul Allen. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, has pledged $25 million through his foundation to tackle the crisis, as has fellow tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. Allen is willing to boost his initial $3 million grant if a passenger charter becomes necessary.