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How much does it cost?
Health economists measure costs according to the cost per disability-adjusted life year (DALY) saved. (There is an ongoing debate about the clarity of this metric; interested readers should look at two recent articles by GiveWell, here and here.)
The World Health Organisation classifies the cost-effectiveness of any intervention that costs below $100 per DALY as 'good', and below $25 as 'excellent'.
The cheapest intervention evaluated in the authoritative literature (DCPII) is childhood immunisations ($8 per DALY saved in Africa, $16 in Asia). Other leading interventions include DOTS treatment for TB ($8-$263), insecticide-treated bednets for malaria ($2- $24), Integrated Management of Childhood Illness ($9-$218), increased primary care coverage for maternal and neonatal care ($82-$409), and antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS ($673-$1494).
According to our model, the cost per DALY of a DMI mass media campaign in most countries is in the range of $2-$15. This would make mass media behaviour change campaigns in most countries the most cost-effective of all interventions currently used in public health. We are now carrying out a scientific trial in Burkina Faso to prove this prediction. (As a rule of thumb, there are around 30 DALYS per individual 'life', so the cost per life saved of our campaigns is $60-$450, depending on the country.)
The table below provides a graphical illustration of the difference in cost-effectiveness between DMI campaigns and other public health interventions (based on upper estimates), showing how many years of healthy life each intervention can 'buy' with $1,000: