Top-rated charity

Helen Keller International — Vitamin A supplementation programme

Helen Keller International — Vitamin A supplementation programme

Cause area: Improving human wellbeing

Helen Keller International partners with governments across Africa and Asia to provide millions of children every year with lifesaving vitamin A supplements and other nutrients.

What problem is Helen Keller International working on?

Vitamin A strengthens vision, prevents blindness, and builds children’s immune systems so that they are strong enough to fight childhood illnesses like colds, flu, malaria, and diarrhoea. Without enough vitamin A, these routine illnesses can quickly end a child’s life — GiveWell attributes over 200,000 child deaths to vitamin A deficiencies every year.

In many countries, vitamin A is a natural part of diets. But for many families living in poverty around the world vitamin A-rich foods are not part of their regular diets. Sometimes they’re not available, but more often they’re too expensive for families.

HKI reports that twice-yearly vitamin A supplementation for children between six months and five years old “can reduce child mortality by almost a quarter and help prevent blindness.”

What does Helen Keller International do?

A single capsule of vitamin A given to children twice a year for the first five years of their lives can save their sight and lives, for only a little more than $1 per dose. HKI reports that, in 2021 alone, it helped deliver 30.6 million vitamin A capsules to children under five.

As part of its vitamin A supplementation (VAS) programme, HKI:

  • Distributes vitamin A supplements to children across Africa through door-to-door and fixed-site campaigns.
  • Partners with local governments in low-income communities across Africa to facilitate VAS programme implementation, provide funding, and offer technical assistance (including helping with monitoring, training, and budgeting).
  • Advocates for mass VAS campaigns.
  • Partners with local communities, governments, multilateral organisations, academic institutions, and the private sector to increase impact.

Why is Helen Keller International’s VAS programme one of our top-rated charities?

HKI’s VAS programme meets our criteria to be top-rated because one of our trusted evaluators, GiveWell, has conducted an extensive evaluation highlighting its cost-effectiveness. The VAS programme has been a GiveWell top charity since November 2017. (Our trusted evaluators are charitable giving experts who focus on impact — their research into the best charities means your donations can do even more good. Learn more about charity evaluators we trust and why.)

Open Philanthropy also awarded a $9.7 million grant to HKI’s VAS programme in 2020.

Vitamin A supplementation has a strong evidence base, though GiveWell does express some uncertainty in light of a recent trial. GiveWell also supports HKI’s mass distribution campaigns rather than its routine delivery programmes.

At Giving What We Can, we focus on the effectiveness of an organisation’s work, which considers much more than just the administration costs of the organisation. Learn more about this common “overhead myth” and our approach to charity evaluation.

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