Internet crowdfunding is an increasingly popular way of raising funds for projects that don’t rely on a few well-heeled investors who are willing to risk substantial amounts of cash, but accumulates small contributions from a large number of individuals instead.
Entrepreneurs have successfully crowdfunded start-up companies, musicians have financed new records and communities have clubbed together to save old cinemas.
Now, a California-based non-profit organisation called Watsi
Watsi has partnered with a number of medical institutions operating in under-serviced communities in developing countries who submit profiles of patients, describing their situation and the medical procedures they require. Donors can contribute as little as US$5 to individual patients of their choice or to a common fund from which allocations are made to specific patients.
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Since Watsi itself – its operations and staff – is funded independently through philanthropic donations, all of the money pledged to patients goes directly towards their treatment.
What’s more, all of the organisation’s finances are completely transparent and open to public scrutiny, allowing donors to follow the money they contribute to where they intended it to go.
To be eligible for funding from Watsi, patients must have a condition that severely affects their standard of living, but can be treated with a high probability of success for less than US$1500.
To date, Watsi has collected more than US$3 million and successfully funded health care for over 2000 patients from countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Mali, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand, Haiti and Guatemala who underwent procedures ranging from cataract and hernia surgery to treatment of spina bifidia and repair of fractured bones.
There are several other crowdfunding platforms that allow individuals and organisations to raise funds for medical projects. MedStartr and Consamo, for instance, aim to help finance promising innovations in medicine, while experiment supports research in a range of scientific fields including medicine. Healthline allows money to be pooled for specific patients, and a number of people have used well-established crowdfunding initiatives like Indigogo and Kickstarter to do the same.
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Here are a few examples of medical projects that have benefited from crowdfunding:
• Dr Susan C. Nagel, a professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health and the University of Missouri received $25 000 for her research into whether fracking contaminates water with hormone-disrupting chemicals.
• Vanessa Carter, a South African advocate for patients with facial differences collected $800 to enable her to attend a medical conference in Paris in June.
• American brain tumour patient Nicholas Davis raised over $10 000 dollars to help support himself.
• Dr Jessica Chubak of the University of Washington got more than $5000 to investigate whether children with cancer benefit from spending time with pets.
Relatively small projects like these aren’t perfect, of course, and they certainly can’t solve the massive crisis in affordable and equitable health care faced by so many communities around the globe today. But clearly crowdfunding can make a difference.
Watsi, for instance, has already proven itself as a novel and efficient mechanism to connect individuals who can’t afford to pay for the medical treatments they need with charitable donors who are willing to make small contributions towards their plight.
Medical scheme tariff structures
How the funds of medical schemes are spent