A note on this page's publication date

The content we created in 2010 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to the research it presents and with respect to what it implies about our views and positions.

Published: November 2010

  • HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of adult deaths in the developing world1
  • Antioretroviral therapy can prolong and improve patients' lives, and potentially reduce the risk that they will infect others, for a cost of several hundred dollars per year. We are revisiting the question of how this compares to the cost-effectiveness of other global health interventions. There are other interventions (including preventative interventions) that may be more cost-effective.
  • We have not found a charity we can confidently recommend that focuses on HIV/AIDS.

How do charities address HIV/AIDS?

Charities aim to prevent new infections by encouraging safer sexual behavior and/or distributing needed items (such as condoms) or providing medicine that prevents pregnant mothers from transmitting the virus to their newborn (either during pregnancy or while breastfeeding). Charities also provide care for those already infected by supplying drugs. (Unfortunately, these drugs don't cure the disease, though they slow its progression.)

The table below provides what we know about the most common programs charities run.

Program Impact Conditions under which program is effective More information
Condom promotion and distribution When implemented effectively, prevents cases of HIV/AIDS Unclear; intervention may require behavior change. Program review
Drug treatment with Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) ART prolongs life but does not cure HIV/AIDS Accurate diagnosis; continuing adherence to drug regimen; appropriate monitoring of patient's response to treatment Program review
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission Prevents cases of HIV/AIDS transmitted from mother-to-child during pregnancy or while breastfeeding Adherence to drug regimen Program review

What are the challenges of finding a great HIV/AIDS charity?

While there is strong evidence that the above interventions can have positive impact, carrying them out effectively may be challenging, and may require substantial resources (as in the case of drug treatment) or behavior change (as in the case of condom distribution/promotion).

We have not found a charity we can confidently recommend that focuses on HIV/AIDS. In the future, we plan to revisit the question of how antiretroviral treatment compares to other global health interventions on cost-effectiveness (we previously concluded that it was excessively expensive, but are now reconsidering this view).