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Are there any public health funding opportunities with COVID-19 that are plausibly competitive with Givewell top charities per dollar?

by Linch1 min read12th Mar 202017 comments

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My best guess is no, but feel like I should throw this question out there in case anyone can think of plausible candidates. Most of the advice is targeted to large donors in EA on the assumption that Open Phil, etc is ~40% likely to come across this thread, rather than for scrub small-scale donors like me.

Some possibilities I could think about:

1. Buy testing kits from South Korea/Chinese manufacturers and partner with biohackers/nonprofit groups/homeless shelters/senior homes/other at-risk places to administer them ahead of hospital systems. Understand that you probably can not legally call them COVID-19 tests, but still do this type of guerilla testing quickly and provide necessary quarantine guidelines/supplies later/

2. Fund a large prize for the best #AlternativeVentillator design that balances cost, ease of construction, and quality.

3. Buy ads on New York Times/Fox News etc (and other local equivalents in other countries), to make #flattenthecurve messaging more well-known among people who aren't aggressively online.

4. Prepare and be ready to buy ads on local communities that just got evidence of an outbreak and suggest emergency measures (we may be able to race a few days ahead of public health authorities in acting very fast this way).

(One way to race ahead is to bid a lot for heavily targeted Google and FB ads).

5. Fund vaccine projects (though it looks like a lot of projects are already underway and dumb money might make this situation worse).

6. Fund a large prize for aggressive/fast/cheap testing, potentially to be used in the developing world.

7. Assume Bill Gates knows what he's doing here and throw money at whatever the Gates Foundation throws money at (assuming they have similar policies like Open Phil and don't want to account for 100% of funding for most projects).

8. Buy a lot of masks and distribute it to at-risk populations.

9. Fund studies for various airport interventions.

10. Give a grant or fund a prize for a high-quality no-contact thermometer for humans, to be used at airports, conferences and other places.

Thoughts on additional suggestions? Would especially appreciate ones that have cost-benefit estimates/guesstimates tacked on (would also be excited if someone can formalize any of my loose suggestions into solid cost-benefit guesstimates).

Addendum: Also excited to learn of existing/shovel-ready projects and nonprofits that EAs can fund, not just new projects. However, for those I'd appreciate a specific summary and cost-effectiveness estimate attached (otherwise we'll see a lot of answers that are just stuff like "The Red Cross").

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A large donor working with DMI to scale up messaging around handwashing seems like an obvious place to start given that they are plausibly close to that level of cost-effectiveness even ignoring coronavirus, and under optimistic assumptions are significantly better than that.

Fund a study to investigate the use of DIY-masks. Promote their use to at risk population, and fund add campaigns with scientists.

Although Western governments have come out against face masks, Eastern ones (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan) are strongly in favor of people wearing face masks to protect themselves. There is evidence, that even homemade masks are good at protecting people from respiratory droplets . These could be used if the shortage in surgical masks persist.

Since in the West nobody is promoting this evidence in favour of face masks, this is a potential high impact intervention.

Paying people in Bangladesh 1$ a day to stay home.

Possibly something around domestic violence? China saw a rise in DV during its lockdown.

I could imagine the possibility of spending a month in quarantine with your abuser could inspire a sudden uptick in victims wanting to leave, if there's somewhere for them to go.

My best guess is no, but feel like I should throw this question out there in case anyone can think of plausible candidates.

Can you explain your thinking behind this? My model is that COVID-19 will spread to developing countries before too long, and once there, it will quickly become a much bigger problem than malaria etc. So the highest-impact global health intervention would appear to be "beta testing" of anti-COVID-19 interventions that we think can be transferred to a developing country context.

Anyway, this recent post on far-ultraviolet light looks pretty interesting. I'm pretty optimistic about ideas like this which could use the momentum of COVID-19 to overcome regulatory hurdles etc. and then end up being super valuable for other problems going forward.

Perhaps a Eurovision-style graphic design contest, with modest prizes given to the designers or artists who most memorably communicate the key mitigation tactics of hand-washing, social distancing, surface cleaning, and "flattening the curve." National and regional winners could garner earned media for their victories. The design community seems effective at virally promoting good design, and especially any accolades for a designer's work, so I could see a modest investment going far here.

I would chip in some organizing time and some dollars for a project like this, or another good project someone else thinks up!

Buying new masks can be a bad idea. Though there is an evidence, the problem is limited capacity of stocks. To my understanding, China produce these masks so massively that they can afford selling them to whole population. But, let's say, in US, we have the opposite situation. And massively buying masks can reduce capacity of the healthcare system, which is the main bottleneck in preventing deaths now. There are a lot of articles on this topic, and I didn't review them, but this can be an example. And from my discussion with an MD friend who works in a clinic I got impression that masks could be a huge problem when the healthcare system will be overloaded, as even clinical workers may not have enough protection. So I'm wondering whether we can do something with either reducing the non-targeted consumption of masks (shifting to using hand-made masks?) or with improving distribution/production of masks.

I'm sure funding for hand sanitizer, soap, masks etc in refugee camps would be welcome.

Lobbying for better healthcare/sanitation for prisoners may be effective in certain countries.

Not a funding opportunity, but I think a grassroots effort to employ social norms to enforce social distancing could be effective in countries in early stages where authorities are not enforcing, e.g. The Netherlands, UK, US, etc.

Activists (Student EA's?) could stand with signs in public places asking people non-aggressively to please go home.