Monday, May 11, 2009

Prioritizing Aid - More Questions Than Answers

There are many worthwhile causes to champion, injustices to fight, both financially and through other actions. Should I donate to an organization that, say, helps fund the education of girls, clean water, or HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment? Should I fund a domestic or international cause? Should I lobby for environmental issues? Universal healthcare in the U.S.?

I feel that I am prioritizing one condition over the other by devoting my efforts to a cause. Of course we should contribute toward solving all the world's problems, but I recognize that our resources -- money, time, political will -- are limited, so we can only give publicity to some diseases and not others.

Now expand this on the scale of national governments, multilateral aid organizations. We all have to make choices about how much to fund for what. Each foreign aid budget, domestic health budget, and NGO has to prioritize what it will spend the most money on.

I often read about how easy and cheap it is to cure a certain disease but there's no effort to do so. No global funds, no rock star benefit concerts, no massive whatever-color-ribbon campaigns. There is no publicity, funding, and political for very urgent needs with simple solution. I've heard that with just a little more push we can eradicate the last few pockets of polio, or with some cheap drug we can save lots of people from something terrible.

The latest example of this is Nick Kristof's column about pneumonia published on Mother's Day (The Killer No One Suspects). According to Kristof, a course of antibiotics to treat pneumonia costs only 27 cents, but pneumonia registers on few people's consciousness as a widespread, emergent disease.

This leads me to ask why some diseases or conditions get more attention than others. Is there some general fascination with the new and incurable disease that plagues all of us? Is it only greed and fame of politicians, drug companies, and scientists that set funding priorities?

I checked categories to which this entry belongs, I'm selecting many of them. This is because that at some level, these health, gender, environmental, and social issues are interrelated, cycles of poverty, environmental degradation leading to health effects, tuberculosis exacerbating AIDS, etc. But most organizations have one or several focuses, some of which leave other behind. Inevitably, aid organizations or lobbies will be fighting for the same funding, the same piece of the pie so to speak. Expansion of one program may see cuts in another. Am I second guessing myself too much? Is this the activists' curse of caring too much?

x-posted at Choice Words


ecomarci said...

i left a comment on choice words.

Julia Smith said...

This may seem overly emotional or whatever you'd like to call it, but you have to dedicate your time/money/effort to the causes that are personally important to you... it's impossible to champion every cause. There are so many issues that deserve attention, but I think it's better to dedicate oneself to one or a few things (because your efforts will be more concentrated and your sanity will remain intact).

People have made me feel guilty about the causes that are important to me... for example, I worked extensively with house rabbit rescue organizations in high school. I was asked why I didn't put so much effort into groups that help humans. All I can say is that this was the cause that spoke to me. I don't have a logical argument to say why it is, but I don't think I need one. There is not one single all-important cause in the world. Focus on what you love.