A Bubble in Bolivian Healthcare

It only took me the first week of classes for my stomach to become acquainted with a malicious strain of E. coli. However, with everything there is a silver lining and considering I want to study medicine this was a great opportunity for some first-hand experience in Bolivian healthcare. Naturally, I had done some research before coming and knew very well that Bolivia consistently rated higher only to Haiti in terms of health care in the Western Hemisphere. But I had traveler’s insurance which warranted a trip to an international private clinic. I knew my experience would be in a “bubble” compared to what the national median would be, but I truly had no idea.

We arrived to a colorful two-story building with a manicured lawn and large parking lot around 7 P.M. on a Thursday. I noticed immediately that I was the only patient that was there that night. After being signed in, I was seen by a nurse immediately. All the equipment I noticed seemed to be state-of-the-art. All the standard procedures a nurse should go through were followed to a T. The building was clean, modern and sleek. If I have ever been to a nicer clinic in the States I certainly cannot remember it. Once again, I was the only one there.

The doctor saw me immediately whereupon I was taken to a exceedingly spacious examination room. Once there, I had the undivided attention of both the doctor and nurse for about an hour and a half. They were professional and methodological and would immediately provide me a word in English the couple of times my Spanish was lacking. They collected and analyzed blood and urine samples and got my results (a gastrointestinal infection) back to me as quickly as possible. Immediately, they gave me my round of antibiotics, and I was off.  I couldn’t quit wondering how different my experience was from any other random clinic in Bolivia.

I understand the need for a country like Bolivia to have these private clinics which cater to capital-bringing tourists. Still it’s hard to come to terms with such a remarkable clinic in the middle of a country with such an ill reputed renown for healthcare only accommodating one person a night. It certainly produces a sense of guilt when one imagines the state of healthcare most Bolivians receive in their own country, if they’re lucky enough to be close to a clinic at all. Everyone wants to think of healthcare as something that everyone receives equally regardless of race or socioeconomic status, but the truth is especially stark here in Bolivia. I got the “bubble” experience of healthcare in Bolivia; now it’s time to see reality.

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One thought on “A Bubble in Bolivian Healthcare

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  1. I’m glad you realized the “bubble” that those clinics represent. Is that unique to Bolivia? How about the US, where millions of people don’t have access to insurance or regular health care (other than the occasional emergency room visits)? Keep in mind that those clinics don’t only cater to tourists, but to the Bolivian upper and middle classes, as well. If you get a chance, maybe ask Dr. Kate if she’ll take you on a tour of the Hospital de Clinicas, one of the main public hospitals in La Paz …

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