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How much does it cost to save a life?

Words by Tess Becker

Charities tackle some of the biggest challenges facing humanity, from the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, to homelessness, or medical issues. Ideally, all donations to these organization will further their goals. But where does that money go and how much is necessary? If you had to guess, how much would it cost to save a life? 

The nonprofit, GiveWell, is “dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give.”

They estimate that it costs somewhere between $3,000-$5,000 for the average charity to save a life. This is assuming that funds are used efficiently and reliably. GiveWell acknowledges that the cost can vary greatly, but it serves as a benchmark for the funds required for lifesaving work. 

GiveWell demonstrates how this cost can directly impact people's lives with the example of the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). From a GiveWell grant, the AMF was able to afford 1.6 million mosquito nets to cut down on mosquito swarms and as a result, cut down on malaria. They estimated that it would save about 1700 lives, at about $4500 per life.

“That $4,500 donation may have also accomplished some additional outcomes that are not explicitly incorporated into the above cost-effectiveness outline,” they write.  “[Like] averting non-fatal malaria infections. Non-fatal infections can still cause a significant amount of suffering, and some potential economic effects. There’s some evidence that suggests that averting a case of malaria in children will allow those children to earn more money later in life.”

But this is also a simplification of a deeply complicated process. Depending on what the charity is working to address, take something like cancer research for example, the costs can vary wildly meaning it might lead to higher costs for life-saving intervention. 

All that said donating and giving to good causes is never a bad thing and there are a lot of organizations like GiveWell that help people share their money in the most efficient ways possible. 

“We spend thousands of hours each year reviewing academic evidence and researching different programs to identify the most cost-effective, evidence-backed ones,” GiveWell writes. “We focus on finding and recommending a small number of outstanding giving opportunities to help donors save or improve lives the most with their gifts.”

Find a cause you care about and give what you can!

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Path Home. This organization helps families facing homelessness in Portland, Oregon. Find out more and support them here

Hope South Florida. They help people affected by homelessness across the tri-county South Florida. Find out more
National Coalition for the Homeless. They aid homeless people around the country through their many branches. Support them here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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