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New GiveWell Top Charities: AMF, SCI

December 1st, 2011

GiveWell rates charities on program effectiveness. This is really important, because charities vary widely in terms of how much they can do with a dollar of program money. [1] They just published a new set of recommendations, which I'm very excited about. They are no longer recommending people give to Village Reach, not because they no longer think it is effective but instead because it has all the money it needs for now. Instead they have two new charities: the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and the Schistosomiastis Control Initiative (SCI). Both of these organizations work in Africa on public health interventions AMF on malaria and SCI on parasites.

AMF provides insecticide treated bed nets to local organizations that distribute them to families. GiveWell focused on making sure AMF is distributing the nets as it claims, and they seem to have been thorough. They also look at whether nets are being well targeted, both at areas with high rates of malaria and at people who don't already have them. They end up with $5 per additional net delivered, and nets tend to last about two years.

SCI treats schoolchildren to kill hookworm and other intestinal parasites. It's not practical to give medicine to just the ones who do have parasites, so some of the children treated don't need it. The treatment is also not permanent, lasting about a year. They calculate $0.68 per child treated.

The biggest difference between the two organizations is that AMF mostly prevents deaths while SCI mostly prevents suffering. This makes them hard to compare. It also makes SCI much harder to evaluate, because the benefits of deworming are much harder to measure. [2] Much of their SCI review is taken up with the question of "does this work?", while the effectiveness of AMF-style malaria prevention was already well established. Crudely, their case for mass deworming is twice as long as their case for insecticide treated nets.

[1] And don't get me, or worse, Holden, started on the uselessness of the ratio of overhead to program expenses.

[2] Givewell actually found several major flaws in the standard estimate for the benefits of deworming.

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