The GiveWell Blog

My personal experience with diarrhea

One of my pet peeves is when donors are determined to fight the diseases and conditions that have affected them personally. I know, this is a personal/philosophical decision, and a lot of people I respect will disagree with my take. This blog is personal and unfiltered, as you’ve been warned before.

The Straw Man says, “I’ve had a loved one affected by cancer. I know how it feels, and that’s why I’m fighting cancer.” You know how what feels, Straw Man? Losing a loved one? Then why don’t you focus on that problem: try to get fewer people to lose their loved ones? How is losing a loved one to cancer different from losing a loved one to diarrhea?

You know why you’ve never lost a loved one to diarrhea, and why I haven’t either? Because it’s easy to prevent death from diarrhea. Because it’s totally insane that anyone ever dies from diarrhea. The people you know are privileged, and would never in a million years be at risk from diarrhea. That’s why diarrhea has never “touched” you or me directly. It’s also the exact reason that fighting diarrhea is such a good use of money.

Fighting diarrhea is simple and saves lives immediately. Nobody should be dying from it, anywhere, but they are – in large part because people who can help, people like you, aren’t around and haven’t seen them “up close,” and are focused on the specific, narrow kind of suffering you’ve seen, instead of on fighting human suffering as well as we can.


  • My wife had diarrhea last week after a bad meal in China. My thoughts echoed those above. After a 5 day stint in bed with simultaneous vomiting and loose bowels which involved a hefty does of antibiotics, I wondered aloud “How miserable it must be to have this condition and go untreated, like in a nation without proper access to care”. Personal experience in perspective is the best method for promoting a culture of change.

    Good post Holden.

  • Robert Daoust on September 29, 2007 at 11:05 am said:

    “(…) instead of on fighting human suffering as well as we can.”
    Couldn’t agree more since I am advocating that we develop a new domain of work specifically for dealing with the knowledge and management of suffering.

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