Several people have recommended that we look at the Fred Hollows Foundation. We have been shown calculations implying that they are preventing or curing a person’s blindness for every $20-60 they spend. As we continue our research on developing-world aid, we checked them out a bit ourselves.
The Fred Hollows Foundation’s programs include surgeries to cure blindness caused by cataracts and trachoma. These surgeries are relatively straightforward and can therefore be performed relatively inexpensively (at less than $10 per trachoma surgery, according to the Diseases Control Priorities Project). But the cost per surgery doesn’t tell the whole story – for example, we also want to know:
- How bad would patients’ vision be without surgery? While improving someone’s sight is always valuable, “curing blindness” means something very different to me from helping someone who previously had vision in one eye, or slightly impaired vision in both.
- How old the people are who receive the surgeries? Again, curing blindness always has some value, but it means more to me when it means giving someone a full life of healthy vision (or when it helps someone to care for their dependents).
The Fred Hollows Foundation conducted a 65-person post-operative survey in Cambodia that sheds light on the above questions. (You can see the full report here; this is the only survey of its kind that I found on their website.)
- 44% of those who received surgeries had been able to work before undergoing surgery, as they were “usually only blind in one eye or had some vision in both eyes” (Pg 11).
- 77% of those who received surgeries were over the age of 60 and another 21% were over the age of 41 (pg 10).
I’m excited by the idea of vision correction surgery; it’s cheap and tangible, even considering the above. But these sorts of details about who is being helped significantly change my idea of what you get for your donation with this kind of program, and I’m far from convinced that it ultimately represents a better “value” than our current top health-related charities.