Thursday, April 7, 2011

¡salud¡ international health day

Today, April 7th, is celebrated world-wide as a day to focus on the topic of health...and health care and the millions of people around the world who continue to suffer from diseases and illnesses long-eradicated in the developed parts of the world.

In Bolivia, health care statistics are grim. Bolivia's child mortality rate (66 per 1,000 live births) is the worst in South America. The maternal mortality rate in the country's rural area is 602 per 100,000. Diarrhea remains the leading cause of death for children under the age of five-years-old (mostly attributed to unsanitary water). Proper nutrition is a significant problem -- the diet of most rural families here in the Yungas, for example, consists primarily of rice, potato, and plantain with very little protein or vegetables. For that reason, experts estimate that 23 percent of people in Bolivia suffer from malnutrition.  (Here in the community of Carmen Pampa, I am a witness to undernourished children who are far shorter and smaller than their classmates.)

Nursing student Veronica Quispe spent time working on a Leishmaniasis project at the hospital in La Asunta, a rural mountain town in Bolivia's South Yungas.

Students and staff working on behalf of the UAC-CP's Nursing Department and Public Health program often confront: Tuberculosis, Leishmaniasis, Dengue, Cholera, Rabies, Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Chargas.  Though the location of the College in the Yungas mountains means we are free of many insect-carrying disease, we are not immune to them all. We hear stories on a daily basis of students or their family members who are sick.

The good news is that recent changes in Bolivia's health care system have helped to improve access to health care and the frequency with which people use health care service. However, the vast majority of people living in the poor, isolated rural areas--far from hospitals and clinics and well-trained health care providers--remain under-served.

A poster in the hospital in the lowland town of Palos Blancos where UAC-CP Nursing Students had internships reminds people about the risk of dengue.

Despite the the grim statistics and the overwhelming challenges of providing affordable and user-friendly health care to Bolivia's rural population, the College still has reasons to celebrate today.  The UAC-CP is helping to improve health care in Bolivia.  This year, 175 men and women are registered in the College's Nursing Department--all young people inspired by the mission of the College to educate indigenous youth to provide quality health to people in one of the poorest areas of Latin America.

What many people don't realize about the UAC-CP's unique curriculum, is that students here learn by doing through service. Starting in their second semester of studies, all students in the Nursing Department are required to spend half of their semester working on-site in hospitals and clinics.   The Nursing Department, in fact, has agreements with 12 municipalities in the rural area where students are placed during their two-month practicas. Often in exchange for housing and food, students work in hospitals and public health clinics--they gain real-life, professional experience and provide important health care services to people who might otherwise go without.
The College's Public Health team takes the show on the road: nurse Micaela Soliz and student Alcira Pacajes do a general health check of little boy in a neighboring community.

The College also finances, in large part, the Carmen Pampa Health Post.  The UAC-CP's health team: Dr. Wendy Maida and Micaela Soliz (UAC-CP '08) work full-time for the College and attend to 13 communities in the valley (plus the College, local K-12 boarding school, and nearby school in the community of San Pablo). In 2010, they reported attending to 1,574 health consultations and provided 560 vaccines. They also work to implement a Bolivian government program that ensures free access to health care for pregnant women and children up to 5-years-old. In addition, they provide public talks about such things as waste treatment, hygiene, and oral health.

So today, as we remember people throughout the world who are not so fortunate to have access to quality health care, I "salud" the UAC-CP's Nursing Department for its active work to educate young professionals from Bolivia's rural area to be the solution for their country's grim health care statistics.

[1] World Bank. 2007. “Bolivia at a Glance.” 6/4/2009. Available at:
[2] Richter, Kathleen. “Reduction of Maternal Mortality Rates in Bolivia.” Prospect: Journal of International Affairs at UCSD. May 2009. Available at:

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