Trying to assess the effectiveness of COVID-19 charities in India

post by gotech · 2021-05-04T07:42:25.902Z · EA · GW · 3 comments

This is a repost of something I wrote here: - this forum asked the same question [EA · GW] as I did and I would welcome help from the rest of the community in building out what is a quick first draft.

Oxygen is a key mainstay of COVID treatment and supplies are particularly short in some places.  Jeff Coleman's back of the envelope calculations suggest that donating money for oxygen could be more beneficial in terms of life-years gained per $ than any of GiveWell's top rated charities, and that oxygen concentrators could be particularly impactful at the moment.  

Beyond oxygen, it was difficult to get good data on what key supply chain shortages actually are.  Is shipping oxygen cylinders directly cost effective?  How about donating money locally to buy/produce vaccines?    

In the meantime, I looked through some charities and tried to assess their efforts.  I ended up looking at what activities they were carrying out, how much detail they provided about their activities, the quality of any financial reporting/quality reporting processes they seemed to have and how easy it seemed to be to access financial breakdowns.  The exercise became more of a "gut feel" analysis than I would have liked but was still tremendously useful - I'm open to suggested edits/additions, and will touch on some of the further research I would have liked to have done at the end.

IAHV's Facebook page

Figuring out how effective these charity efforts are from their website alone is difficult.  I don't of course expect anyone to be carrying out a detailed impact analysis given how acute the COVID situation in India is, but thought that evidence of detailed policy evaluation, thorough reporting and easy-to-access data on previous projects would all point to rigorous processes in place.  The Against Malaria Foundation's website is a great example of the sort of quality that's possible, with detailed financial tables easily accessible from their homepage, a published decision making framework and individual distribution level reporting (though perhaps focusing on the single task of donating bed nets makes it easier).  

What I found was that there doesn't seem to be a great deal to separate the charities with all of them seeming to do decent work.  Most make their tax reporting easy to find and seem to keep the proportion of money allocated to "administration" and "marketing" (versus actual programs) low.  However, there was definitely some variability in the quality and detail of financial reporting, the use of independent audit, as well as the ease with which they made this available.  Proxy markers I know, but still useful for decision making.

Some important things that I haven't been able to look at yet are:

For now however, I have enough information to know where I'm going to donate this week...


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comment by Tejas Subramaniam · 2021-05-04T12:42:14.232Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My  guesses at the moment are that: 

  • Oxygen concentrators are more cost-effective than B-type cylinders, and much more cost-effective than ventilators or D-type cylinders, but there’s a lot more uncertainty around oxygen generators. This is both due to Coleman’s calculations and transport constraints. Even though concentrators are used in less severe cases, they can prevent cases from becoming severe enough to require hospitalization, given serious bed shortages. 
  • Effective Indian charities (or ones that operate more extensively in India) are preferable to international ones, especially since the former operate on larger programs, are less vulnerable to government regulations restricting their actions – see here and here. They could also help reduce transaction costs. 

So I’d say GiveIndia’s Oxygen fundraiser is a good bet for broad-based oxygen donations (especially since they’re transparent about their costs), and this fundraiser and this one both look promising for concentrator-specific donations. The latter two fundraisers procure concentrators at slightly higher cost than GiveIndia’s fundraiser does, but you can target your donations at concentrators.

Here are GiveIndia’s estimates of its costs: 

comment by MathiasKirkBonde · 2021-05-05T07:39:27.625Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your post! I've been worried about missing the opportunity to help but didn't have the time to evaluate which charity to support. Based on your post I donated to GiveIndia. I hope we as a community can look back on this and be proud we acted decisively and fast.