SEATTLE, Washington — Philanthropy evaluator, GiveWell, reports that during COVID-19 the most effective direct-impact charities are either continuing with modifications in place or pausing while trying to retain staff. Some, like the Malaria Consortium, are continuing work modified with extra health precautions intended to minimize exposure and transmission of COVID-19. Others have paused operations with the intent to resume when safe, while several have changed focus to address COVID-19 health risks by funding relief efforts, supporting health broadcasts or broadening target demographics to help people in countries previously excluded.
GiveWell: Improving the Most Lives Per Dollar
GiveWell is part of the global effective altruism movement. Founded in 2007, its central mission is to reform global philanthropy by vetting and recommending charities that “save or improve the most lives per dollar” so that potential donors can give effectively and with confidence. GiveWell recommends eight Top Charities, which it considers “evidence-backed” and “thoroughly vetted,” in addition to a number of other Standout Charities it supports. Of these Top Charities, seven primarily work to treat and reduce infections of malaria or neglected tropical diseases like schistosomiasis and trachoma. The eighth, GiveDirectly, provides direct cash transfers to households suffering from extreme poverty. These charities have responded and adapted to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents.
Malaria: Malaria Consortium and Against Malaria Foundation
Malaria is one of the most widespread life-threatening diseases in the world, with an estimated 229 million cases and 409,000 deaths worldwide in 2019. A disproportionate number (67%) of malaria deaths occur among children, primarily in Africa. Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted through infected female mosquitos.
Malaria Consortium works with the governments of 13 countries to prevent, control and treat malaria. The organization’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) programs, deemed its most effective work by GiveWell, provides doses of anti-malarial medication to children under 5 over the course of the malaria season. “Malaria Consortium believes that discontinuing SMC would risk a substantial increase in malaria cases and deaths among those most vulnerable to the disease,” a post from April 2020 stated. Since then, Malaria Consortium has released a series of blog posts detailing the challenges it has worked to overcome amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which ranges from employing additional safety precautions to rearranging SMC supply chains. In 2020 it expects to treat 12 million children in three countries, doubling last year’s figure of six million.
Malaria nets are one of the most effective methods for preventing malaria. Against Malaria Foundation has continued its core work, funding nets in African countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some partner countries initially postponed distribution initiatives during the lockdown, these efforts have since resumed, with Against Malaria Foundation distributing 34 million nets in three countries. In September 2020, the organization also reported passing the $250 million mark in its fundraising efforts. For 2021, the organization committed to funding 29 million nets for distribution that will protect a further 52 million people.
High-Impact Deworming Programs
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that SMC programs and net distribution continue amid COVID-19 health risks. By contrast, it suggested that deworming initiatives halt operations. This is largely because deworming takes place “on an annual basis in many locations or at most twice per year.” Since many treatments are scheduled later in the year regardless, halting distributions in spring has had little bearing on whether patients were able to access their medication this year.
GiveWell recommends four deworming programs as Top Charities. Among them, Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative continued working with partners through the pandemic, experimenting with a pilot program in Kenya to change how it determines whether children have received deworming medication. It has also helped India implement new community-based distribution practices that go door-to-door to hand out medication.
What makes deworming programs dangerous amid the pandemic is the fact that they tend to mass-distribute oral treatments from local stations, where individuals can pick up medication once or twice a year. To avoid spreading COVID-19 through distribution efforts, many deworming initiatives have opted to hand-deliver or mail doses instead.
Vitamin A Programs
Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation programs combat malnutrition by providing doses to children under 5, which health studies have shown significantly reduce child mortality rates in areas where malnutrition is prevalent. These programs paused early on when COVID-19 health risks were highest but resumed in June 2020. Helen Keller International adapted by supplying protective equipment and hand sanitizer to volunteers tasked with distribution.
GiveDirectly’s Cash Transfer Programs
GiveDirectly, which provides high-impact cash transfers to struggling families, has raised roughly $108 million in relief funds for families that can no longer make a living because of COVID-19-necessitated lockdowns. These transfers are fully contactless and GiveDirectly has continued auditing recipients. Initially working in Liberia, Malawi and Rwanda, GiveDirectly has extended its programs to include the United States, Kenya and Uganda, with plans to expand into five more.
– Skye Jacobs