Maximizing the Impact of your Donations

Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer wrote an OpEd for the New York Times this weekend that argues for the importance of supporting the right charity. He uses the example of giving to a local museum verses donating to an organization that helps people with the blinding disease trachoma. He says giving to the trachoma work will yield much more value than giving to the museum.

Suppose you have a choice between visiting the art museum, including its new wing, or going to see the museum without visiting the new wing. Naturally, you would prefer to see it with the new wing. But now imagine that an evil demon declares that out of every 100 people who see the new wing, he will choose one, at random, and inflict 15 years of blindness on that person. Would you still visit the new wing? You’d have to be nuts. Even if the evil demon blinded only one person in every 1,000, in my judgment, and I bet in yours, seeing the new wing still would not be worth the risk.

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DC Residents: See Documentary Girl Rising in April

Check out a special screening of the documentary film Girl Rising on April 17 in Georgetown. Girl Rising tells the stories of 9 extraordinary girls from 9 countries, written by 9 celebrated writers and narrated by 9 renowned actresses.

Here is a review of the film from the New York Times earlier in the month:

If “Girl Rising” is wholly a vehicle furthering the cause of girls’ education across the globe, it’s more of a multicolored bus to worthy destinations than a pace car. In this twist on the social-issue documentary, girls act out stories adapted from their own lives by writers from their own countries, including Edwidge Danticat, Aminatta Forna and Manjushree Thapa. The hybrid results feature occasional bold strokes alongside ad-pitch eye candy and sleeve-tugging.

The first tales hit strongest, before the stylish flourishes peter out and the statistical bulletins (presented in a green field by a fleet of kids and Liam Neeson’s voice) overwhelm. In Ms. Danticat’s Haiti story a stubborn grade schooler keeps going to class after the 2010 earthquake without paying the tuition; in Cairo a rape victim’s account to the police is artfully transmuted by her superhero fantasy, rendered in animated segments. A raft of actresses (Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez and more) supply in-your-head narration in tones that are intimate and defiant, but not pitying.

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Remembering US Needle-Exchange Pioneer David Purchase

The needle-exchange movement has been an important development in the effort to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, among drug users. A good amount of credit for the growth of the movement in the United States can be attributed to David Purchase.  In fact, there are unconfirmed reports that Mr. Purchase’s needle exchange work in Tacoma, Washington beginning in 1988 was the first such offering in the United States.

A drug counselor, Mr Purchase used the $3,000 he won in a settlement after being struck by a drunk driver while on his motorcycle to begin to provide clean syringes to his clients. Sadly, Mr Purchase passed away from pneumonia on January 21  at the age of 73. His Point Defiance AIDS Project and the North American Syringe Exchange Network are responsible for keeping 15 million potentially harmful syringes off the streets each year.

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'Half the Sky' Shows Women Overcoming Oppression and Building a Better World

The two part special Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide premiered on PBS earlier this week. America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde join New York Times journalists Nick Kristof to meet some of of the women that are profiled the book of the same name co-authored by his wife Sheryl WuDunn.

A post in the Huffington Post by Dr. Jamela Saleh Alraiby, Deputy Minister of Public Health and Population, Yemen and member of the White Ribbon Alliance Board of Directors, tells of the importance of women and girls. She explains her hopes for ending the suffering of girls in her home country.

Fighting to ban child marriage in Yemen is so difficult as it has religious, cultural and tribal roots, but this challenge gives us more strength to save our girls and to stop the violence they are exposed to, to assure that they have the means and tools to make their own decisions, and to ensure their participation in sustainable development.

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American Academy of Pediatrics Issues Support for Newborn Male Circumcision

A review of the male circumcision by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has resulted in a shift towards support of the practice. “Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it. Specific benefits identified included prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has endorsed this statement,” writes the AAP in the abstract of the study released earlier today.

The AAP stresses that the parents are ultimately the ones who should make the decision, but point towards the benifits outweighing the costs. They explain in their policy statement, ” Although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it and to warrant third-party payment for circumcision of male newborns. It is important that clinicians routinely inform parents of the health benefits and risks of male newborn circumcision in an unbiased and accurate manner.”

The New York Times reports on the announcement:

In updating its 1999 policy, the academy’s task force reviewed the medical literature on benefits and harms of the surgery. It was a protracted analysis that began in 2007, and the result is a 30-page report, which includes seven pages of references, including 248 citations.

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Zambia: Closing the Global Surgery Gap

Did you know that there are more people in Sub-Saharan African who need surgery today than people living with HIV/AIDS? It is estimated that 56 million people in SSA need surgery ranging from cesarean sections to cataract surgery.

recent article by Sarika Bansal for the New York Times looks at the issue of access to surgery and at some of the new developments that hope to address the gap.

With high-quality surgery available in the world’s developed countries (for those who can afford the coverage or the price tag), it is easy to forget how crucial that option can be for a patient.  “With surgery, people can survive who otherwise would not have,” said Mzaza Nthele, a general surgeon in Livingstone General Hospital.  “Just imagine how many lives are lost if we can’t do C-sections.”  The World Health Organization estimates that surgery can treat 11 percent of the global disease burden.

Yet across the developing world, surgical care often does not reach those who need it. Surgical facilities are sometimes prohibitively far or expensive to reach, which can be fatal in emergency cases.  “It’s not obvious until you visit the hospital in person,” said Kendra Bowman, a researcher and surgery resident at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.  “The Western province [of Zambia] is under water for seven months of the year — there’s no running water, no electricity, no phones, they’re cut off from the world.  There’s no way they’re going to go to [capital city] Lusaka to get a laparotomy.  It’s a death sentence to refer those patients.”

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PSI and Gates Collaborate to Test Male Circumcision Innovation in Zimbabwe

This week, the New York Times reported on the development of two male circumcision devices: PrePex and Shang Ring. Both are exciting innovations that make it quicker, easier and safer to perform circumcisions on men.

Now that three studies have shown that circumcising adult heterosexual men is one of the most effective “vaccines” against AIDS — reducing the chances of infection by 60 percent or more — public health experts are struggling to find ways to make the process faster, cheaper and safer.

The goal is to circumcise 20 million African men by 2015, but only about 600,000 have had the operation thus far. Even a skilled surgeon takes about 15 minutes, most African countries are desperately short of surgeons, and there is no Mohels Without Borders.

So donors are pinning their hopes on several devices now being tested to speed things up.

Dr. Stefano Bertozzi, director of H.I.V. for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said it had its eyes on two, named PrePex and the Shang Ring, and was supporting efforts by the World Health Organization to evaluate them.

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Chairman Mao and the Discovery of Artemisinin

It might come to your surprise that one of the most important figures in the modern fight against malaria is none other than former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. It was his allocation of resources to assist the North Vietnamese battle both American troops and malaria that led to the discovery of artemisinin, the drug that is considered to be a major medical advancement in ending malaria.

This morning, the New York Times has a report on the history of artemisinin that is well worth reading.   One idea that is posited throughout the article is if the discovery should be considered for the Nobel Prize.  Weigh in in the comments section with your opinion.

Mao’s role was simple.

In the 1960s, he got an appeal from North Vietnam: Its fighters were dying because local malaria had become resistant to all known drugs. He ordered his top scientists to help.

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Melinda Gates On Global Health Spending

Melinda Gates and New York Times journalist Nick Kristof allowed readers to submit questions about international development and global health.   The first part of the conversation was published yesterday; this question and answer caught the eye of us at Healthy Lives:

Question: I attended a talk once with the British economist Benny Dembitzer. He thinks that too much money is spent on the fight against malaria and other diseases, believing that a child may be saved from malaria today but could die from diptheria tomorrow. Instead, he’d rather see that money spend on primary education. As a molecular biologist, I think that the fight against insect transmitted diseases can be won, but I can understand the argument. Do you think that a point might be reached at which we have to say: Enough’s enough. Let’s give everyone bed nets and we can fight malaria through bringing people out of poverty? –ROBERT JONES

MELINDA: I hear that question a lot, and I don’t think it is either or. We have to do both. It is incredibly important not only to invest in health, but also to invest in efforts that stimulate economic growth, expand access to opportunity, and help the poor raise themselves out of poverty. Take agriculture, for example. We invest in agriculture because we believe that if smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women, had access to better information and higher yielding and more resilient crops, they could better feed their families, earn higher incomes, and become self-sufficient.

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Ashley Judd on why Foreign Aid Matters “From Mombasa to Manhattan”

Ed note.  PSI Board member Ashley Judd weighs in on the foreign aid debate with a letter to the editor of the New York Times.    Ashley with children at Dushishoze, PSI/Rwanda’s Youth Center Franchise Benefits of Foreign Aid Published: October 10, 2011   To the Editor:   “Foreign Aid Faces Major Cutbacks in Budget

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Family Planning with IUDs

In Sunday’s New York Times, Nick Kristof shares the experiences of taking two contest winners to see various countries in Africa. In the article, Kristof discusses how the continent has been improving over the past few years. In one section he mentions the challenge that family planning continues to pose. Only 23 percent of women

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Why ‘Smart Aid’ Means Stopping ‘Sugar Daddies’ from Spreading HIV

If you haven’t read it already, don’t miss Nicholas Kristof’s column today on “Smart Aid” in which he  discusses the contributions that economists are making to aid effectiveness.  Kristof points to information campaigns against ‘Sugar Daddies’ as a particularly cost-effective way to combat HIV:  What’s the most cost-effective way to prevent H.I.V. transmission in Africa?

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