Sunday, May 1, 2011

Go Humans! Beat The Worms

I should begin by saying happy birthday to my former student Maia, who's turning 22 and asked her friends to celebrate the occasion by giving money to charitable causes. Happy birthday Maia! I just gave $8000 USD (a bit over $10K SGD under current exchange rates) to Deworm the World, which is tied for being the #1 most efficient charity in the world according to Giving What We Can.

What's so special about Deworm the World? The big thing is that they focus exclusively on treating neglected tropical diseases. These are tropical parasite infections that can be treated if you just give a kid one or two cheap worm pills a year. Not much money is going towards treating these diseases, so there are opportunities for a small amount of money to have a tremendous impact. Deworm the World works primarily in India and Kenya. In India they've managed to get costs really low by just distributing pills through the school system. While their initial goal was to get total costs of giving a kid a pill below 50 cents (and they've achieved it in lots of Africa), India's going at 12 cents each.

In addition to being disgusting, parasitic worms are a major economic problem. If a child has severe worm problems, the worms can basically eat up to 20% of the child's nutritional intake. So you're very cheaply feeding the hungry by doing this, by making sure that they get to actually digest their food. The educational benefits of deworming are pretty awesome too:

treating children for parasitic worm infections (also known as neglected tropical diseases) is the most cost-effective way of improving school attendance rates. Children are so often ill because of their infection with parasitic worms that treating this dramatically improves school attendance. Treatment costs only $0.02 per school day per person, or $3.27 per aggregate school year per person and in addition, it is one of the most cost-effective health interventions.
The people at Giving What We Can have a nifty chart to represent the impact of donating money to deal with neglected tropical diseases and other things. They count the impact of charitable contributions in terms of the Disability-Adjusted Life Years (basically, how many years of someone's life did you save? plus you get fractions of years for making people not go blind or something) per $1000 donated. By their calculations, $1000 donated towards giving people cheap worm-killing pills scores 200-300 DALYs. So I guess for $8000 I saved 2000 of those? Which if you break it down into individual lives to get a better handle on it -- let's assume that the people would've lived 50 more years each -- is basically saving 40 people's lives. I've been staying up late today sending off paper abstracts to four different conferences I want to go to after procrastinating way too much earlier in the weekend, and I'm kind of exhausted right now, so I can't mentally get a good grip on that. But it's kind of incredible.

I've been trying to put pictures of related stuff on the blog lately, but I really don't want to put up horrible parasitic worm pictures, so instead I'll go the opposite route and illustrate this post with sweet Canadian activist girls. Anyway, you can read more about Deworm the World here, and maybe send them money super-conveniently on Paypal if you like.
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