Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia

by Save the Children Federation
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Helping Children Survive to 5 in Bolivia
Thank You from Bolivia
Thank You from Bolivia

Thanks to your generous support, children in Bolivia are being reached with lifesaving assistance and support. And school girls Fernanda, Gaby, Jhoselin and Gladys wanted to say "Thank You" to Save the Children Donors who support their school and health programs in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Last year, Save the Children reached nearly 80,000 children in Bolivia last year, keeping them safe from harm, providing the opportunity to learn and a healthy start in life. 

Our work in Bolivia will carry on in 2015. Save the Children's programs bring hope to children and families in the departments of La Paz and Oruro on the Altiplano, and our newer adolescent programs extend to every department of Bolivia. Save the Children helps girls and boys and their families with food security, newborn care, school health and nutrition, primary education, healthy adolescent development, and emergency relief.

Thank you again for your contribution. 

Happy New Year!

P.S. Please consider supporting Save the Children's global mission in your year-end giving plans. 


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Bolivia, with a population of approximately 10 million people, is the poorest country in South America.  Approximately half of Bolivia's rural population lives at least an hour away from the nearest health post, and some must walk over 10 hours to reach a health post, which may not be adequately staffed or supplied. 

Save the Children attempts to address these gaps and works to help improve the health and nutrition of children and their families.  In 2010, funds from GlobalGiving donors benefited our health and nutrition programs in the department of Beni.  There is a great need for assistance in Beni, as children and families are often faced with high levels of parasite infestation in children (greater than 60%), anemia (19%) and easily preventable childhood illnesses and disease (more than 43%).

Before Save the Children began to implement programs in Beni, 56 percent (21) of the communities did not have easy access to health centers or health posts, nor did they have basic first aid materials.  The nearest health post for some beneficiaries was 3 to 4 hours away by motorcycle – or 12 to 24 hours by foot. 

Save the Children coordinated with SEDES (Departmental Health Services) and developed a mapping of the impact area to determine the best locations for the communal pharmacies.  We used the following parameters:

1)  Communities were defined as having a population of at least 150 inhabitants or 30 families.

2)  We identified communities that did not have access (more than an hour walk) to the closest health centers.

In coordination with SEDES, Save the Children established 15 communal pharmacies (boticas): two in Trinidad, six in San Javier, five in San Andrés, and two in San Ignacio de Moxos.  The boticas are located in isolated communities far from health centers.  These boticas are now functioning under the supervision of SEDES in Beni, but managed by community health workers. Save the Children coordinated training for health workers through SEDES and the Red Cross.  Training sessions covered how to prevent common childhood illnesses and acute respiratory infections.

With the support of GlobalGiving donors, additional funding from the local NGO PLAGBOL[1], and collaboration with SEDES, boticas in Beni are now equipped with basic essential medicines and nutritional supplements.  Health workers now have the training and assistance needed to address the most common illnesses in their communities, including those that primarily affect children (e.g., diarrhea and colds).  In 2010, the 15 boticas in Beni directly benefited 664 families and their 1,067 children.  Save the Children is grateful to you, and your fellow donors on GlobalGiving, for helping to provide essential health services to children and families in Bolivia.

[1] PLAGBOL is an NGO working on the theme of Integrated Plagues Management.


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Yordi: Helping his Family through Safe Water and Healthy Practices

In 2008, Save the Children began implementing a health education program in the city of El Alto, Bolivia one of the poorest areas in La Paz Department as well as the country. In the Gran Poder neighborhood, for example, there is no easy access to basic sanitation services and as a result, intestinal infections are common in this unprotected population – especially in younger children. In Save the Children’s 2008 baseline study, we learned that 22 percent of children had giardiasis[1], a diarrheal infection largely associated with poor hygiene/sanitation and the consumption of contaminated water or food.

Yordi, a 9 year-old fourth grader, lives in Gran Poder and goes to the Santísima Trinidad School. Yordi’s family includes his mother, father, four-year-old brother in kindergarten, and a three-year-old sister named Milenka. With his classmates, Yordi participated in Save the Children’s Improving Our Lives (Mejorando Nuestra Vida). In this program, Yodi learned about the importance of better hygiene practices and safe water consumption. For example, he learned how to disinfect water and avoid diarrhea through the simple SODIS method.[2]

Yordi tells us, "Now I practice SODIS in my house." He also said that his little sister Milenka used to drink water from the sink and get sick with diarrhea: "Her tummy really hurt and I felt sorry to see her feel so bad." When he learned about SODIS in Improving Our Lives, he started making two bottles every day so that his family had safe water to drink.
Yordi's mother, Maria, says her son places two bottles every day in a small, outside hut. Yordi told her that he learned this in school and that if they drink SODIS water, his little sister will not have diarrhea. “Before this program, nobody was worried about children…but now, even little children say that they must wash their hands.” Rephrasing Yordi’s words, Maria tells us: “We can prevent sickness by just washing hands.”
In addition to safe water through SODIS, Yordi taught his mother how to prepare Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), how to drink it slowly and properly, and why ORS is important. Maria noted that when her daughter Milenka had diarrhea, she was so upset and nothing worked – Milenka kept vomiting and getting worse. “It was as if she had deflated like a balloon.” By attending parent workshops through Improving Our Lives as well as Yordi’s knowledge about ORS, Maria saw Milenka recover and get back to normal: “It was as if the balloon reinflated after taking ORS.” Escuchar

Yordi is one of 195,289 children in Bolivia who participated in Improving Our Lives and now shares vital health information with family members.

After three years of school health and nutrition programming, Save the Children saw demonstrated improvements in children’s knowledge and health practices:

  • The percentage of children that properly washed their hands before eating increased from 8.3% to 90%.
  • The percentage of children who could explain why and when it is important to take Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) increased from 5.5% to 38.7%.
  • The percentage of children who did not know how to prepare ORS decreased from 84.6% to 33.6%.

Save the Children implemented Improving Our Lives in four departments throughout Bolivia in both rural and urban settings.

[1] Giardiasis is also known as giardia, and for people with compromised immune systems it can be deadly. In children, giardia can lead to malnutrition and poor physical growth or “failure to thrive.”

[2] Through SODIS, children put water in clear plastic bottles – usually soda bottles – and set them out in the sun on a simple structure with a corrugated tin roof to disinfect the water. SODIS has proved to be particularly beneficial for children in rural areas with limited access to safe water.


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Save the Children will continue to expand community-based activities that contribute to improved health, education, food security and nutrition for children in Bolivia.

These include:

An integrated food security initiative that will use strategies such as behavior change to help families increase and then sustain their household incomes and closely monitor the nutritional status of their children;

A multi-faceted adolescent program that will expand the Making Decisions model to the Lake Titicaca region, as well as maintaining its current national presence;

A newborn health focus on post-natal care; and

The expansion of the School Health and Nutrition program will now include all 49 of the public elmentary schools in Caracollo, in addition to more rural schools in the Department of Oruro, and schools in the cities of La Paz and Oruro.

Photo Caption: Young mother, Julia shows her 2 year-old son the blossoms in the peach orchard developed by Save the Children.

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Bolivian mother with newborn child
Bolivian mother with newborn child

Bolivia comes in at number 75 out of 125 countries, ranked according to the overall health and well-being of mothers and children, in this year’s Mothers’ Index in Save the Children's 2006 State of the World's Mothers report.

Why is this country ranked below so many others? Bertha Pooley, the national advisor for Save the Children's newborn health program in Bolivia sheds light on the issue of health care for mothers and newborns below:

Beyond the ranking, what is the situation really like for mothers and newborns in Bolivia?

Bertha Pooley: The newborn death rate is three times higher in the poorest municipalities than in the highest. There is national health care, but the [newborn] population has been neglected because we are just discovering that one of the most important stages of life is the first 28 days.

Before, we were focusing on preventing illness in children over 2 years old, but then we began to discover that 70 percent die before they are 7 days old. Why were these babies dying? They had infections or diarrhea. They lacked vaccinations. They had respiration problems or they were born prematurely.

And the mothers?

Pooley: The relationship between the mothers and babies is very important. The respiratory problems of babies are usually directly related to what happens during labor. Low birthweight is directly affected by the mother’s pregnancy. If we want healthy babies, we have to have healthy mothers.

After the birth, is it true that umbilical cords are sometimes cut by using broken pieces of clay pots and babies are fed tea or urine, instead of breast milk, in their first few days of life.

Pooley: This is very common in Andean culture. The problem with pottery is that sometimes it can infect the cord, so we recommend that they use a new razor blade instead. If they prefer to use a traditional clay pot, we recommend they boil it first, for at least 20 minutes. Some cultures put drops of urine in the newborn’s mouth to cleanse it. It is a mix of religious and cultural customs.

They also delay the feeding of the baby because the first milk - it is called colostrum - is yellowish and many think it is impure. We had to explain to them that this milk was the most important because it’s like a vaccine for the baby. Before, they waited one or two days to breastfeed and would give babies chamomile tea in bottles.

How has this presented challenges to teaching safer care for newborns?

Pooley: We haven’t been teaching. We have been establishing communication with the mothers in the communities to exchange ideas. It is important to have this type of communication because they are going to teach us some things, too.

What is the main message you are trying to get through to mothers and midwives who come to your sessions?

Pooley: It has to do with several very basic things: warm and wrap the baby after delivery, early breastfeeding and delaying the baby’s first bath for 48 hours (because one of the problems that newborns have is they can develop hypothermia). You have to remember La Paz is 14,000 feet above sea level and it gets cold.

For instance, with small or premature babies a method like kangaroo care, where a mother can position the baby to have skin-to-skin contact with her, transmits a warmth between the bodies that can prevent hypothermia. If they have a low temperature, then this method can raise it and the beat of the mother’s heart can give the baby a rhythm for the beat of his or her own heart.

We are not saying that we are going to replace incubators, but it is important to have kangaroo care as an alternative for rural areas.The important message here is that we can save babies with low-tech, accessible methods that we can afford.

It’s amazing that something as simple as a mother’s warmth can save a baby’s life.

Pooley: I think everything is amazing! A baby’s life is amazing; to work with the Bolivian government is amazing; to see that things can get done with little money is amazing. Sometimes it is invisible things that make a difference. This message of saving newborn lives guarantees not only life, but a quality of life for this new generation.

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Organization Information

Save the Children Federation

Location: Fairfield, CT - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @savethechildren
Project Leader:
Megan McLain
Manager, Corporate Partnerships
Westport, CT United States

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