The GiveWell Blog

Good news can create new challenges for donors

I was glad to read of a new $110 million initiative for insecticide-treated bednet distribution, which we find one of the better-established ways to spend money to improve lives.

But what does this mean for you if you’ve been giving to a malaria charity? Do independent bednet distributions now run the risk of being redundant with the new one? Has USAID provided enough funding that your donation is no longer as needed?

Unfortunately, we have no way of answering this question. While there are some attempts to coordinate government aid, we know of no one asking questions like “How much total room is there for funding distribution of bednets? How can we make sure that all the malaria organizations are on the same page? How can we track the extent to which individual donations are still needed?”

If donors focused on how to have real impact (as opposed to, say, fictions about where “their” money goes), such a question would be extremely important to them.


  • David Barry on October 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm said:

    Wouldn’t you have enough numbers to get at least a ballpark estimate? On your ITN page, you cite a figure of 5.5 lives saved per 1000 net-covered children. That is one life saved per 180 net-covered children. The cost of each life saved is $200-$1100, so the cost to cover one child with a net is about $1-$6.

    I have no idea if this new programme will be as efficient as that, but divide $110 million by how much you think it’ll cost to cover each child, then compare to the population of the at-risk areas.

    Anyway, I am VERY new to this stuff, but it looks to me like we can at least make an educated guess at whether or not this programme makes the others redundant (or will increase the cost per life saved in future).

  • Holden on October 22, 2009 at 5:25 pm said:


    Even if we know the theoretical cost of covering every child, we need data on how much funding is committed from other donors for this problem over the next few years. Without that, we don’t know if there are more or less than enough funds available to cover all at-risk children.

    From reading literature, talking to experts and following the news, we can have a rough sense of the situation (and we believe that net distribution remains underfunded). We can also follow up with charities year after year to hold them accountable. So we aren’t wholly helpless to answer this question, but one of the key pieces of data doesn’t seem to be systematically tracked or publicly available.

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