Save A Life

How much is a life worth?

The Save A Life program is designed to find the most effective solutions for saving individuals from certain death. Because the PIF Foundation supports our programs exclusively by providing funds and raising awareness to third party programs we are able to quickly pivot our resources if a program loses effectiveness over time.

The Save A Life program uses donations to provide Long-Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) to protect people from contracting malaria. Because the desired outcome for this program is to save lives, we do not measure success by the number of nets being distributed, but by the statistical estimate of number of deaths avoided based on how many people would have died without this intervention.

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How much does it cost to save a life?

This is a difficult question because a truthful yet somewhat misleading answer could quantify the cost to save a life by only calculating the cost of the utility that saves a person's life. For example, an organization may specialize in distributing preventative vaccinations to people at risk of contracting Measles at a cost of $0.14 per vaccine.(1) This organization could technically promote that their cost to save a life is just $0.14 since that is the cost of the vaccination that they administer through their program. However, we feel that the true cost to save a life should be determined by incorporating the additional cost associated with making the vaccine available such as organization overhead, distributing the vaccine, and tracking effectiveness once the vaccine is distributed. 

A closer look at effectiveness also forces us to consider the true number of lives saved as a result of the vaccine distribution. Statistically, if just 10% of the people that received the vaccine would have contracted Measles, then the $0.14 vaccine would actually cost $1.40 per life saved. This cost would increase further when we consider the aforementioned expenses of organizational overhead.

Impact by the numbers

$5.31 = 1 Long-lasting insecticidal net (LLIN)

  • LLINs vary in cost and our estimate of $5.31 varies slightly from the current estimates given by Givewell, which range from $4.68 in Malawi and $6.06 in DRC. We use $5.31 using a simply middle ground between these estimates, minus an additional $0.06 for a decreased expected future distribution cost. This estimate is also used by Giving What We Can as of 10/1/2016.

651 LLINs = 1 life saved

We estimate that an average cost of $5.31 per net(3) would require around 651 nets, costing approximately $3,461 to credit LLINs with having intervened enough to have statistically saved the life of one person.

These figures also factor in the cost of distribution, as well as operational and administrative expenses necessary to deliver LLINs. Below are some additional facts a figures we have taken from this program's federal tax filings.

  • Percentage of public donations spent on LLINs for 2015: 100%
  • Administrative costs as a percentage of revenue received: 0.99%

Is there hope?

Yes. In fact, interventions have already successfully eradicated malaria in the Netherlands, and reduced malaria infections by more than 95% in Vietnam(4). The expertise, distribution channels, and plans for eradicating malaria worldwide exist, but lack of funding has prevented us from making more progress.

Consider this, charitable giving by sector for the past three years (2013-2015) shows that U.S. international giving has averaged approximately 5% of all giving.(5) This is roughly the same level of giving as the arts during the same time period. Considering that total giving for 2014 was approximately $358 billion(6), imagine what progress could have been made if we simply increased our international giving efforts to 10%!

Scope of the Issue

How much would you spare to save the life of another human being? There is no question that many of us would do anything we could to save the life of a family member, close friend, or colleague. But what about a complete stranger?

The reality about the Save A Life program is that you are committing to help save someone that you will likely never meet in person. However, just because malaria is not a significant issue for Americans does not make it in any less relevant for the 400,000+ people that die from the disease each year.

The organization that we choose to support for our Save A Life program is the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). AMF saves lives by distributing long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) to combat malaria. AMF shares the following needs analysis on their website:

  • 70% of the deaths are children under 5 (that is the equivalent of seven 747s of children dying from malaria each day)
  • Malaria is the world's single largest killer of pregnant women
  • 90% of the deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa (7) 

Malaria is clearly an issue worth fighting. However, simply identifying the issue without also taking into consideration the most effective solutions for combating the issue would be a mistake. Based on a significant amount of research, using nets to fight malaria is currently the most effective solution to save lives. (8) The LLINs that are used not only help to protect individuals from coming in contact with the infected insect, but they also help kill the infected insects that come in contact with the net itself. 

Our decision to raise money for AMF was most heavily influenced by the research conducted by GiveWell. Givewell an organization that focuses primarily on evaluating charities based on their effectiveness. Their full research report on the Against Malaria Foundation can be found here.

Evidence Based Research

In our search for the most cost effective way to save a person's life we have come across a myriad of projections, opinions, and calculations. Ultimately our final decision on which model to support was based on research from respected third party sources that have conducted in-depth evidence based studies. The organizations responsible for these reports have far greater scale and resources than our team. It is our belief that this information is the most accurate, thorough, and reliable information currently available to the public. Our decision to focus on third party information rather than conduct our own studies is rooted in the very spirit of our mission. It would be wasteful for an organization of our size to conduct our own studies when reliable information is readily available. Instead, we focus our resources on promoting effective altruism and encouraging donations to the world's most effective charities.

Please see the references at the bottom of this page for a full list of the sources that we have relied on for our decision. 

Discrepancy of Numbers 

We have previously projected different numbers from what you listed in the section above. Because there are so many factors that make these cause these estimates to change (i.e. economies of scale, distributions changes, discount rates, etc.) we regularly update projections based on the most recent estimates provided by Givewell and other research teams.

Donors should not be overly concerned when these numbers change slightly as a result of our review. If there are any material changes that would cause us to change our recommendation we will certainly make donors aware. 

Previous estimates include $5.31 per LLIN, 534 nets required to save a single life, and $2,838 per live saved. 

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(1)Disease and Mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. 2nd edition. Chapter 12 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. and .

(2) Dr. Christen Lengeler of the Swiss Tropical Institute.

(3) GiveWell,

(4) Malaria Eradication

(5) Atlas of Giving

(6) Giving Statistics

(7) Why Malaria?

(8) LLIN Market and Data Analysis

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