Take Action: HIV/AIDS

Red ribbon symbolizing cause of HIV/AIDS
  • HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of adult deaths in the developing world.
  • Charities' programs vary drastically in cost-effectiveness, ranging from $150 per case averted to $550 per year of treatment provided.

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Source: GiveWell

 
  • Some programs aim to prevent new infections by (a) encouraging safer sexual behavior and/or distributing condoms; (b) providing medicine that prevents pregnant mothers from transmitting the virus to their newborns (either during pregnancy or while breastfeeding).
  • Others focus on care for those already infected. (Available drugs cannot cure the disease but can slow its progression.)
  • The table below provides what we know about the most common programs charities run.
ProgramImpactCost-effectivenessMore information
Condom promotion and distributionWhen implemented effectively, prevents cases of HIV/AIDS$550-$2,240 per case of HIV/AIDS averted. Cost-effectiveness can vary widely.Program review
Drug treatment with Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART)ART prolongs life but does not cure HIV/AIDS$130-$550 per year of treatment providedProgram review
Prevention of mother-to-child transmissionPrevents cases of HIV/AIDS transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or while breastfeeding$150-$300 per case of HIV/AIDS avertedProgram review
Peer support groupsUnclear if anyN/AReview of mothers2mothers, a charity which runs a peer-support program

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Source: GiveWell

There's strong evidence that condoms prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS; that appropriate medicine can prevent newborns from contracting HIV/AIDS from their mothers; and that drugs can treat and slow the progression of the disease (though not cure it).

But not every charity working on HIV/AIDS is having impact and doing so cost-effectively. For example:

  • Many charities focus on education about safe sexual practices. Successfully changing behavior in another culture cannot be assumed; donors should look for affirmative evidence that behavior has changed.
  • Appropriate drug treatments can be complex, and donors should seek affirmative evidence that they're applied correctly.
  • Programs vary widely in cost-effectiveness. We estimate that under certain conditions $150-$300 can prevent a mother from transmitting the virus to her newborn, and $500-$2,240 spent on condom distribution and prevention can result in one case of HIV averted. Treatment can cost $550/year to slow the progression of (not cure) the disease.

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Source: GiveWell