Priority programs

Published: December 2013

This page lists our priority programs. They have the following characteristics:

  • The evidence for their effectiveness appears to have relatively high external validity and thus generalizability: it is relatively clear which components of the program are important for effectiveness, and thus we expect a higher-than-usual chance of being able to meaningfully assess a charity's impact when it focuses on these programs.
  • They appear to be potentially highly cost-effective.

Below we list the programs we have considered as potential priority programs.

For older versions of this page, see 2009 report version and 2012 report version.

Priority programs

Program Has GiveWell completed an evidence review? GiveWell report GiveWell's current conclusion
Conditional cash transfers Yes Report Reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Unconditional cash transfers Yes Report Reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Bednet distribution Yes Report Reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Deworming Yes Report Reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Salt iodization In progress Reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Vitamin A supplementation/fortification In progress Reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Immunizations Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Malaria treatment Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Mass administration of ivermectin and albendazole to control lymphatic filariasis Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Mass administration of ivermectin to control onchocerciasis Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Trachoma control Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Provision of anti-retroviral therapy to treat HIV/AIDS Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Therapeutic zinc supplementation Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Tuberculosis case finding and first-line treatment Yes, but not up-to-date Report Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Treatment for severe acute malnutrition No Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Polio eradication No Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Oral rehydration therapy No Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Pneumonia treatment No Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Handwashing promotion No Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness
Breastfeeding promotion No Probably has reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness

Other programs we've investigated

Program Has GiveWell completed an evidence review? GiveWell report GiveWell's current conclusion
Surgery No Probably reasonably strong evidence of effectiveness but difficult to scale
Non-therapeutic zinc supplementation/fortification Yes Report Evidence is less compelling
Treatment of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis No Evidence is less compelling
Water quality (filtration, chlorination) Yes Report Evidence is less compelling
Targeting the ultra-poor No Limited evidence of effectiveness
Mass media to promote behavior change Yes Report Limited evidence of effectiveness to date1
Microfinance Yes, but not up-to-date Report Limited evidence of effectiveness
Contraception distribution No Not enough known to make an informed guess
Antibiotics for treating child malnutrition No Not enough known to make an informed guess
Iron supplementation/fortification No Not enough known to make an informed guess
Multiple micronutrient supplementation No Not enough known to make an informed guess

How we identified programs for investigation

We first started working on identifying promising programs for investigation in 2009. At that time, we focused on reviewing two sources:

  • The Copenhagen Consensus, the only case we have seen of an independent panel of experts attempting to identify the most promising philanthropic investments (discussed more here)
  • Millions Saved, the best collection we have found of large-scale, well-documented past successes in international aid (discussed more here)

If a program was both featured in one of these two publications and similar to a program focused on by one or more of the charities we reviewed, we generally conducted further investigation into the program. Details on which programs are featured in these two publications, which similar programs are focused on by the charities we've reviewed, and which programs we investigated are available here (XLS).

Over time, we have added programs to this list; we have added any program that seems to potentially fit the criteria laid out at the top of the page. We place more emphasis than we previously did on external validity, and less on estimated cost-effectiveness, for reasons laid out in a 2012 blog post.

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