State of Health, Culture, Traditional medicine in Bolivia

Subject: Health Care
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1169
Topics: Medicine, Foreign Policy, Health, Management


The efficient healthcare system is considered to be vital towards powering a country to prosperity. However, a majority of countries in the world have not achieved such goals yet. Bolivia falls among nations that are still struggling to ensure that citizens have access to medical facilities. Currently, the healthcare system in Bolivia is always in shambles even though the government and international organization are on the verge of uplifting it. Most Bolivian countryside residents sort traditional medicine since culture has made them believe that conventional medicine is superior to modern medicine. The rich on the other hand attend private clinics which seem to be more expensive to locals. 


Each year, a million of people are forced to spend more for access to medical care within the entire globe. The health expense has forced most of the low-income families to remain in poor health status and financial hardships. It is therefore prudent for any country that boasts of a robust healthcare system to have accessible healthcare to all citizen. Bolivia is considered to be among the least developed and poorest countries in Latin America (Bernstein, 2017, p. 232).  The country’s healthcare system is vastly affected by culture and entails the use of traditional medicine. 

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Current state of Bolivian healthcare

Bolivia health care system has undergone some reforms since 2008. The principal focus of the transformation has been decentralization of the healthcare system to tackle diarrhea, Chagas, tuberculosis and reduce the rates of maternal and infant mortality.  International organizations fund most of these healthcare transformations. Seemingly, Bolivian medical system is still a mile behind the western countries. The country has a subsidized medical treatment scheme for all citizens even though the project seems to be strained and attracts limited funds. Lack of medical professional is more evident in that patients have to book an appointment or take ticket early in the morning. Without a card, one cannot access the healthcare facility. 

The reduction of health cost has only resulted in endless queues, chaos, and overcrowding at health facilities. The worst hit is the countryside healthcare where many citizens fail to access essential healthcare services. Most people, therefore, seek help from traditional medicine which has proven not to be effective (Weeks, 2017, p. 745). For the wealthy Bolivians, the private clinics have become an option for the overcrowded public hospitals. Most of the open hospitals are under the accusation of poor hygiene. There are reports of nurses failing to wear gloves, needles recycled, failure of cleaning linens and beds between operations, cross-contamination due to waste containers that remain open and unhygienic staffs. The country, however, boosts of 10 medical schools with a strict guideline in place for students willing to pursue medicine. 

Bolivian culture influence on health

Bolivia composes individuals of Spaniard origin, indigenous Mestizos, Andes and some descendant of the colonist.  The significant diversification means that Bolivians have different sets of customs and traditions. Bolivians believe in the existence of supernatural beings such as “K’harisiri” who is the soul of a Spanish elite, priest or foreigner in a pact with a demon (Weeks, 2017, p. 745). They experience the highest infant mortality rate due to malnutrition, diarrhea, and infections. Most residents live in the rural area while low income generating families leave in the outskirts of the city with lack access to primary health care. Many of these individual partially understand health care and Western biomedical ideas. The preferred treatment modes include modern medicine and original Andean elements. Bolivian traditional medical practices involve ritual, practitioners such as diviners, herbalist, curers and diagnostic practitioners.  Ritual sacrifices are crucial in the treatment process which involves the use of coca leaves, guinea pig and alcoholic beverages in disease cure. Death and illness are considered to be a result of witchcraft or influence by a malevolent spirit. As a result, they offer food and drinks to ancestors for appeasement to cure ailments. Custom prohibited women from attending clinics during childbirth increasing the rate of delivery complications due to inadequate antenatal care provided.  The limited health facilities and inaccessibility led to naturopathic healers called “Kallawayas,” acting as alternatives (Harris, 2017, p. 6). Kallawayas healers keep the scientific knowledge understand how to use 300 types of herbs.

Traditional medicine in Bolivia

Use of herbs or natural products in the treatment of diseases is prominent. An example involves the use of sweet mixed with bee pollen and honey, to soothe down coughs and then sold over the counter in a pharmacy. Indigenous medicine involves different categories of people which include the mestizos, middle class and even urban Bolivian who consults “yatiri“ and encourage the integration of traditional medicine into modern medical practice (Weeks, 2017, p. 748). By conjoining these two types of treatment, medical practitioners have supported the use of   Bolivian pharmacopeia for its healing power.  Most indigenous and poor individual in Bolivia still views western clinics and hospitals with suspicion hence when coming for treatment the patients came with their traditional healers as intermediaries. These are because of the fear of the type of treatment, the cost, levels of discrimination within the health centers, contrasting model of healing, shortage of equipment’s which makes them buy their syringes, bandages and other crucial products before treatment. All these essential factors make the people of Bolivia prefer traditional therapy over modern medical treatment. The art of preparing natural medicine has been exchanging hand from generation through learning. Conventional medicine mostly uses plant’s roots, leaves or stem. They were developed depending on the climate and the most common disease in the area (Weeks, 2017, p. 746). Recently in Bolivia, the ministry of health made it legal and authorized registrations of traditional medicine, for example, the Hepato Biliary Syrup used in the treatment of liver problem and also have an anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic agent. The syrup can also prevent stomach infections. 


In as much as Bolivia, health care system is still struggling, the government and the international organizations deserve applauding for lying focus on improving the state of healthcare (López and Díaz, 2017, p.4). Having being ranked among the poorest states in South America, the Bolivia poor state of health system must be a product of poor economy. Tradition and culture also seems to play critical role in how people accept modern medicine. The stringent nature of Bolivia culture has made people from the countryside to believe more on traditional medicine. 

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  1. Bernstein, A. (2017). Personal and political histories in the designing of health reform policy in Bolivia. Social Science & Medicine, 177, 231-238.
  2. Harris, D. M. (2017). Mountain-bodies, experiential wisdom: the Kallawaya cosmovisión and climate change adaptation. Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 1-15.
  3. López, E. G., & Díaz, K. M. (2017). Electronic Health Record in Bolivia and ICT: A Perspective for Latin America. International Journal of Interactive Multimedia & Artificial Intelligence, 4(4).
  4. Weeks, J. (2017). Articulated Medicine: Pan American Health Organization Reengages Traditional and  Complementary Medicine Efforts. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 23(10), 745–746. 
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