If you want to help people living today, supporting global health and development is a pressing matter. There are millions of people in low-income countries whose lives could be improved (and even saved, in some cases) by evidence-based, cost-effective interventions.
Poor economic conditions and limited access to healthcare are important problems because of their massive scale.
- As of 2015, over 700 million people are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than roughly $2 USD per day — and that number already adjusts for the difference in what one dollar can buy in a higher-income country versus what it can in a lower-income country.
- Millions of people — almost all from low-income countries — die each year of preventable and curable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhoeal disease.
A significant amount of work is being done in this area, so global health and development is less neglected than our other high-priority cause areas. Over $160 billion USD is given each year by wealthy countries in the form of grants and loans to support countries in need. However, much of this is not spent as effectively as it could be, and there is an enormous amount of work to be done, so there is still room more funding.
Fortunately, there are many evidence-based, cost-effective ways of making a significant difference in the lives of people in low-income communities. This does not require providing cutting-edge medicine — simple interventions like making sure children are vaccinated can make an enormous difference. The problems are tractable and the work done to date has had an incredible effect: the number of people living in extreme poverty is going down, and people are living longer and healthier lives.
You can help continue this progress by supporting cost-effective charities working within the area.
Global health and development is a major cause area encompassing a variety of interventions, all aiming to improve the lives of the world's most in need. We have provided research reports into four specific causes within this area that you could support.
The fundamental problem work in global health and development aims to solve is that too many people have too few resources. By improving the economic conditions of the world's poorest, you're helping others live the happy and healthy lives they deserve. One of the most straightforward ways to do this is providing direct, unconditional cash transfers to the world's poorest so that they can spend the money on whatever they need most. Other ways to help include supporting health programmes (as there is evidence that some of these programmes also increase lifetime earnings), advocating for foreign aid, or directly trying to increase economic growth in low-income countries.
One of the most devastating consequences of poverty is that people, often children, die of easily preventable and curable conditions like tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhoeal disease. By improving global health, you can help put that to an end. The top charities working on these problems are able to save a life for approximately $4,500 USD. The fact this number is so low reflects extreme inequality in how the world's resources are shared, but it also means that individuals from wealthy countries have a tremendous opportunity to change (even save) someone's life for a comparably low cost.
Economic research is one of the best ways to discover new opportunities to improve the lives of others. Almost all the organisations we recommend were found through some kind of economic analysis, and it's likely that more work will allow us to find even greater opportunities to improve the lives of others.
Billions of people's lives are affected by their government's health policy. By contributing to research that helps discover which policies are best, encouraging institutions to adopt evidence-based policies, and helping those institutions implement their policies effectively, you can have a potentially enormous impact.
We think that supporting global health and development is a robust way of doing good. This means we're confident that, by supporting our recommended charities in this area, you are significantly improving other peoples' lives.
However, there are a couple of common reasons that some people are reluctant to support this cause area.
Depending on how you weigh the suffering of nonhuman animals compared to humans, you may decide to prioritise ending factory farming. Or, you might think what matters most is improving the lives of future generations because, even though there are a large number of people in poverty, there is an astronomical number of people who could live in the future.
We think these are important considerations, each requiring judgement calls that depend on your worldview. Read more about how we recommend prioritising between causes.
There are other reasons that some people choose not to prioritise global health and poverty that we do not find persuasive. For example:
- Thinking that foreign aid makes no difference. We disagree: foreign aid has had a massively positive effect historically and there are well-studied interventions that make a measurable difference to peoples' lives.
- Thinking that "charity begins at home" or that "aid makes low-income countries dependent on handouts." These and others are discussed on our myths and misconceptions page.
We recommend giving to GiveWell's top charities (learn why we trust their recommendations.) We also recommend funds that support a variety of projects designed to improve global health and development. Funds allow donors to pool their resources so they can be allocated by expert grantmakers and charity evaluators.
- Malaria Consortium
- Against Malaria Foundation
- Helen Keller International
- New Incentives
- SCI Foundation
- Evidence Action
- The END Fund
- Effective Altruism Funds' Global Health and Development Fund
- GiveWell's Maximum Impact Fund
There are other ways to help.
- You could support Charity Entrepreneurship, which supports entrepreneurs as they develop new charities to address pressing issues.
- You could support further research into this space, such as from Rethink Priorities, which investigates promising interventions to improve global health and development. Or alternatively, the Happier Lives Institute, which conducts research on effective interventions to increase people's well-being. They currently recommend supporting StrongMinds, a charity which empowers women in Africa by treating depression.
- You can use your career to help make progress. We recommend looking at the openings listed on 80,000 Hours Job Board to see whether you can contribute to this area, or could build the skills most needed to make progress.
To learn more about global health and development, check out the following resources:
- Is global health the most pressing problem to work on? (80,000 Hours)
- Your Dollar Goes Further Overseas (GiveWell)
- GiveWell's Top Charities Are (Increasingly) Hard to Beat (Open Philanthropy)
- Global Health and Development (Centre for Effective Altruism)
This page was written by Michael Townsend.
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Though $150 billion USD is a significant amount of money, it only makes up 0.30% of those countries’ total gross national income. ↩︎