Watsi and ‘high impact’ charity.

A friend linked me to a new organisation called Watsi. From its ‘About Us’ section:

All over the world people are dying of treatable illnesses because they can’t afford basic medical care. Watsi connects you with patients in serious need of low-cost medical care and enables you to fund high-impact treatments.

We believe non-profits should be impactful, innovative, efficient, and transparent, and we built Watsi on those principles. Watsi is a community, not just an organization. We are young, dynamic and serious about using technology to connect people and change lives.

We invite you to join us and change the world, one treatment, one person, and one life at a time.

The home page offers us, for example, the chance to fund Chem, a boy born with clubfoot who can be cured for $300. The site’s blog claims that “Watsi donors have given a total of $100,000 for 100+ life-changing medical treatments in 10 countries around the world”. The organisation appears to have received much positive press coverage, in Wired and the Huff Post amongst other media outlets.

Whilst no doubt well-intentioned and admirable, Watsi’s claim that it facilitates high-impact low-cost giving is worrying me. It seems to think that because it cuts out red-tape and offers a direct channel from donor to receiver, it is effective. But it is promoting treatments that are comparatively expensive. It looks like much more good can be done for these costs.

For example, according to Giving What We Can, the organisation Deworm the World offers “mass school-based deworming [which] is also cost-effective and highly scalable, costing less than US$0.50 per child per year.” If instead of donating $300 to cure Chem’s clubfoot, someone instead donated that money to a charity recommended by GWWC, it is estimated that they could produce 100 years of school attendance. Alternatively, the $100,000 donated to Watsi to provide 100+ life-changing medical treatments could have saved 1,800 years of healthy life, or 33,000 years of school attendance.

I’ve alerted GWWC to Watsi’s existence. I could be wrong, but it looks unlikely that the organisation facilitates high-impact giving. Much more good can be done by other means.

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