As a quick follow-up to yesterday’s thing about America’s biggest breast cancer charity withdrawing its support for breast cancer screening programs:
Does everyone know about the GiveWell blog? They’re an independent, non-profit charity evaluator, and they provide what seems to be fairly thorough, reliable, and transparent analysis on the effectiveness and usefulness of various charitable organisations, so as to help people make informed decisions about what charities to support.
Anyway, they’ve not done a thorough investigation of Komen that I’ve been able to uncover, but they have looked at how they spend their money, and weren’t particularly impressed with what they found.
In 2008, by far the biggest part of Komen’s program expenses were going to “public health education” – nearly half of the total expenditure, significantly more than research, and much more than treatment services.
It’s something of a personal value judgment, I suppose, exactly how much of their budget a charity should spend on each of their different functions, but given what we saw yesterday about Komen’s focus on brand awareness, I’m not convinced that making those little pink ribbons even more ubiquitous and unavoidable is actually going to do a lot for anyone’s health. Being aware of a problem is only any good if you then go and do something about it, and if all you do about it is buy a ribbon to support a charity, then around 46% of your effort is just going into repeating the cycle.
Among other worthy contenders, GiveWell have identified two “Top-rated charities“: the Against Malaria Foundation and the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, both of which are primarily concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. If you want to make the greatest improvement to the world for the fewest pennies spent, that’s where they say you should put them.
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A lot of criticism is being heaped on an organisation called Susan G. Komen for the Cure lately. They’re a breast cancer charity, and they’re kind of a big deal. They’ve also made a couple of decisions that haven’t gone down too well with a number of former supporters.
For one, they arranged a tie-in with KFC. Yes, that KFC. The one whose health implications are known for being potentially problematic, at best.
This isn’t a new arrangement – in fact, it’s so far in the past these days that their site bucketsforthecure.com has been allowed to expire – but some commentators at the time suspected that it was representative of how the Komen organisation’s priorities were starting to shift. It was great for their bottom line and their brand awareness, as people ate fried chicken from an unusually pink container and were warmed by the thought of a small part of their meal’s cost going to do something good about breast cancer. But suddenly the overall impact they’re having on women’s health isn’t so obviously at the positive end of the scale.
And, just this week, they’ve withdrawn their funding from Planned Parenthood, where they’d previously supported programs to screen for breast cancer. Planned Parenthood provide a number of health services, including some relating to termination of pregnancies, and the people who don’t approve of this sort of thing often pressure other organisations into making exactly the sort of move that Komen just have.
It looks rather like Komen don’t want to be seen as being either for or against something controversial such as abortion; they want to woo pro-life support, but don’t want to alienate those who recognise the importance of all the work Planned Parenthood do and don’t think that support for breast cancer screening programs – basically the epitome of what Komen is for – should be dependent on such things.
Komen have said that their decision was made because of a congressional investigation, which it doesn’t sound like anyone’s really taking seriously. If that’s the case, I would suggest a similar moratorium on any further contributions to Komen themselves, at least until the investigation is concluded and we can get some idea what their true feelings really are.
Update: In between writing all that and hitting “Publish”, Komen have apologised for their recent decision and backtracked. Wait… or maybe they haven’t. And donations being directly sent to Planned Parenthood themselves from the general public have shot up, so that’s all to the good. But it’s still a bit of a mess.
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