Save Lives for Less than a Dollar

Effective altruism — efforts that actually help people rather than making you feel good or helping you show off — is one of the great new ideas of the 21st century.

Steven Pinker

Ran across a great video on Youtube and wanted to share it with you. It’s about two inventions from Manu Prakash and his team at Stanford University that can really help to save millions of lives for less than the cost of a bottle of water. It’s a simple microscope and centrifuge that can help detect malaria in third world countries and only costs a total of 68 cents for both. For us in the West it’s easy to simple throw money into these regions thinking it would solve the problems there.

We can tell a wealthy philanthropist that malaria is one of the biggest killers of children and to detect it we need microscopes and centrifuges. The donor will write a nice fat check and think the problem is solved. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case laboratory centrifuges and microscopes generally need to be in laboratories with electricity, things that might be a bit hard to find in the poorest parts of the world. It would also require infrastructure to either move the patients to and from the laboratory or at the very least the samples which would also take quite a bit of time and energy (cost). In the long run it could work if you poor enough money into it, but it would be extremely inefficient.

“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”
― Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah

Manu Prakash and his team instead of just looking at a single point of the problem are taking the macro view of the problem and inventing new and innovative ways to do high tech science with the lowest and cheapest tech possible. It reminded me of an article I read about effective altruism. It’s an organization that looks for the most cost effective ways to help save lives and provide better living conditions to third world countries. Instead of finding the sexy charity of the week they focus on what changes could affect the most lives for the lowest cost. In doing so they are able to make small changes that really make a difference instead of expensive changes that in most cases make a negligible impact.

“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.”
― Mother Teresa

Giving to charity and giving to help out those in need is something we should all do if we can, but in many cases it’s done as a “feel good” action. When giving it helps to really look into the causes and charities and see how far your dollar is going to save lives.

Originally posted 2017-02-15 20:25:02.

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