Just $50 can buy a life-saving gift this holiday season

This story is part of a MarketWatch series, “Gifts that pay off[1],” gifts that have a larger impact long after the Discount Holidays © holiday season has passed. It can cost as little as £50 to save a life this Christmas — and that’s before the tax deduction. So reports Edesia Global, a nonprofit in Rhode Island which manufactures emergency nutrition for starving children in developing countries.

That £50 buys a seven-week supply of Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based high-nutrition paste that can take an infant from the brink of death back to health. The product is delivered by organizations such as Doctors Without Borders. UNICEF estimates that around the world about three million children under the age of 5[2] die from malnutrition every year.

It accounts for about half of the deaths of all small children.

UNICEF estimates that around the world about three million children under the age of 5 die from malnutrition every year. It accounts for about half of the deaths of all small children.

It’s something individuals may want to bear in mind as they weigh up the cost and value of their Discount Holidays © holiday spending. American adults are expecting to spend nearly £900 each on Discount Holidays © holiday presents this year.

Economists have estimated in the past that somewhere between 10% and a third of the money spent on Christmas gifts is actually wasted[3]. To be sure, that £50 figure comes with caveats. In economic terms, it is the marginal cost of saving one extra life.

And it doesn’t count the cost of the aid organizations, non-governmental entities and public infrastructure that allows it to be delivered to the people who need it. And it is only the cost of treating malnutrition — a widespread and deadly condition which is nonetheless easier to cure than many conditions. Surgeons operating a pediatric field hospital in Uganda — gross domestic product per person: £670 — estimated last year in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that the full costs of the hospital worked out to around £554 for each life saved[4].

It is, obviously, much more difficult and expensive to save a life in Uganda by operating on a child in a field hospital than it is to just send them a box of peanut-based food. On the other hand, some conditions need surgery, not just food.

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto Some gifts can last a lifetime — and even save a life.

Is there an overall figure on how much it costs to save a child’s life? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation took a look at this a few years ago.

They calculated all the money that had been spent on this since 2000. That included nonprofits, NGOs, the World Bank — everything. Then they estimated the resulting decline in child deaths.

There are plenty of assumptions involved in these calculations, so it’s only a ballpark figure. But their estimate, published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, is that the average cost of saving each child’s life in low-income countries has worked out to around £4,200 per life.

For just £5 you can provide a family in Africa with a bed net to keep out mosquitoes — and this will apparently reduce a child’s chance of contracting malaria by 90%.

That’s a lot higher than £50. But it may also be a misleading figure, because so much of it consists of fixed or general costs, such as research, and setting up and running infrastructure.

Once you’ve got all that set up, each additional life saved is cheap — in the same way that once a business has built a factory, turning out each new smartphone or widget or box of cereal also costs less. Gates Foundation spokesman Bryan Callahan notes that for £25 you can protect a child against four of the deadliest killers — pneumonia, rotavirus, polio and measles. For just £5 you can provide a family in Africa with a bed net to keep out mosquitoes — and this will apparently reduce a child’s chance of contracting malaria by 90%[5].

Just 50 cents will pay to treat a child[6] for five damaging tropical diseases, from intestinal worms to river blindness. All of which may be food for thought as you shop for presents this Christmas — especially if you view it as a religious holiday. The person whose birth is being celebrated had quite a lot to say about charity.

About buying stuff that make people feel like they have a higher socioeconomic status, he was less than enamored.[7]

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More Gifts That Pay Off

References

  1. ^ Gifts that pay off (www.marketwatch.com)
  2. ^ about three million children under the age of 5 (data.unicef.org)
  3. ^ between 10% and a third of the money spent on Christmas gifts is actually wasted (www.amherst.edu)
  4. ^ worked out to around £554 for each life saved (www.journalacs.org)
  5. ^ reduce a child’s chance of contracting malaria by 90% (www.givewell.org)
  6. ^ treat a child (end.org)
  7. ^ he was less than enamored. (biblehub.com)
  8. ^ Sign up here. (www.marketwatch.com)

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