Why malnutrition treatment is one of our top research priorities

We believe malnutrition is a very promising area for charitable funding in the future. In 2021, we directed nearly $30 million to two organizations—The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) and International Rescue Committee (IRC)—working on malnutrition, and we expect to direct more funding to malnutrition programs in the future. (We have published a write-up about one of these grants here and will publish write-ups about the other grants in the near future.)[1] To give a sense of what we expect, we would not be surprised if GiveWell directs as much funding to malnutrition in the future as we have to malaria programs in recent years.
We haven’t written much about this cause, so we thought it was important to remedy that. In this post we will share:

What malnutrition is and the scope of the problem. While we have remaining uncertainties, we estimate that 45 to 210 million children experience malnutrition each year and that malnutrition increases their chance of death by two to seven times relative to children who aren’t malnourished. More below.
How NGOs and governments support treatment. NGOs and governments implement relatively simple programs to treat malnutrition.
Why we believe these programs are promising. In sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for nearly 25% of global cases and where we have the best understanding, we estimate that the total funding gap for malnutrition programs is between $350 million and $13 billion, at a cost of $2,000 to $18,000 per death averted.
What our remaining open questions are. We have open questions about the evidence, what it means for the likely effect size of the programs we’re supporting, and challenges to support organizations growing significantly to meet the large global need.

We’re not recommending that donors give to malnutrition programs at this time. We’ve filled the cost-effective funding gaps that we’ve identified. We’re investigating further spending opportunities and expect to direct additional funding to malnutrition programs in the future, but we don’t have specific recommendations for donors today. Now, we continue to recommend that most donors give to our Maximum Impact Fund.
A note on the estimates below
As you’ll note, most of our estimates involve very wide ranges. This includes our estimate for the number of children globally who experience severe malnutrition, the cost to reach them, and the cost-effectiveness of programs we might fund.

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