Bolivia is a landlocked country located in South America. With one out of eight Bolivians living on less than US$1.25/day, it is the poorest country in this region. The most vulnerable population are women and children living in rural areas, as well as indigenous people who make up 65 per cent of the population.

In the past 20 years, health indicators for Bolivia remained the second-lowest in Latin America. The maternal and infant mortality rates are the second highest in the region. Malnutrition is one of the most important public health problems in Bolivia, with chronic malnutrition affecting one in three Bolivian children. Many children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies resulting in high levels of anemia. Causes include absence of nutrients in food, lack of access to potable water or basic sanitary services and the lack of basic health information for parents and the general poverty that characterizes the population.

Bolivia’s indigenous populations are most vulnerable to the effects of poor health.  As indigenous peoples move from rural areas to the cities in search of better access to resources, language barriers and cultural differences limit their access to health services.

Red Cross work in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health

In 2012, the Bolivian Red Cross, with the support of the Canadian Red Cross and the Micronutrient Initiative, implemented a maternal and child health and nutrition program to strengthen and promote community health practices between families and municipal organizations. The project focused on prevention activities, such as raising awareness and improving healthy behaviors, which lead to reduction in child illness. Exclusive breastfeeding, use of oral rehydration salts, and early detection of illness are key practices.

Activities included training of health staff and community members, interventions with postpartum mothers and infants less than one month old, work with pregnant women and children under five. The Bolivian Red Cross also implemented a communication strategy to promote self-care of pregnant women and new mothers, newborns and children under five.

The active role of Red Cross volunteers was a key to the success of this project. Volunteers conducted home visits to pregnant women, new mothers and their newborn and children under five. These volunteers were trained to detect early signs of malnutrition and illnesses, to make referrals to the local health unit for needed medical care, and provide personalized nutrition counseling to mothers and pregnant women.