Every month Wilma Licena takes her newborn baby Carolina to her local health clinic in the city of El Alto.
She makes the three kilometer journey by foot whatever the weather. ‘’I get everything checked out here,’’ Wilma told teleSUR as she took her place in the small waiting room with the other mothers and babies. “My daughter gets a thorough health-check, she’s weighed, vaccinated and if she needs any nutritional supplements the doctors will write me a prescription," she added.
Wilma is one of 72,000 pregnant women and new mothers benefiting from Bolivia’s ‘’My Health’’ program. Over the last three years, doctors have seen more than 7.8 million patients and saved more than 17,000 lives.
President Evo Morales launched the ‘My Health’ program in June 2013. All treatment is provided free of charge for residents in some of Bolivia’s poorest communities. The main beneficiaries are patients on low incomes who would otherwise not be able to pay to see the doctor and get prescription medication.
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‘’The program has transformed and revolutionized our health system, especially for the most vulnerable,’’ Health Minister Ariana Campero told teleSUR.
The Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, has praised the program for bringing medical care to some of Bolivia’s must rural communities. ‘’The My Health project is on the right path to ensure that people have access to services everywhere in Bolivia’’ said Carissa Etienne, a Director at PAHO.
One of the main achievements of the program has been the sharp reduction in the number of maternal deaths. Doctors say more than half of the conditions and treatments are diagnosed in the patients own homes during routine check ups and and the rest in medical centers across 306 different municipalities.
‘’The most important part of the program is our house to house visits in the most rural parts of the country’’ says Ariana Campero. The Health Minister says doctors and mobile clinics are now present in ’’25 indigenous communites’’ in Bolivia. ‘’Before this program patients in these rural areas had next to no medical help,’’ Campero told teleSUR.
The Ministry for Health in La Paz says 75,000 smear tests have been carried out and 1.3 million children under five have been vaccinated and given booster injections.
The initiative started with 155 physicians and 11 specialists focused on providing free consultations. Three years later almost 3,000 physicians work in 359 neighborhood clinics and urban centers. More than 700 Cuban medical staff are employed as part of the state program.
My Health has been credited with helping Bolivia’s Indigenous populations based in remote areas get quick access to primary health care. The Bolivian government says it has ambitious plans to boost the numbers of specialist doctors working in the community and increase the number of house calls for those most in need.