All work and no play

Developing sustainable health policy and programs isn’t nearly as exciting as delivering vaccines to children in the hopes of eradicating deadly diseases. It’s not as interesting as developing new, life-changing medicines for new, existing, and neglected diseases. And it certainly isn’t as news-worthy as delivering emergency medical aid to those fleeing conflict. However, these programs cannot succeed in the long-term without sound, evidence-based health policies to support them.

I came to La Paz to work with a Bolivian NGO called PROCOSI. They work with other NGOs and various Bolivian government ministries to develop public health policy and promote the concept of integral health. As such, PROCOSI addresses issues of maternal mortality, low birth rate, perinatal mortality, and infectious disease via improvements in health services, access to health services, nutrition, sanitation, housing, and gender equality.

I’m working on a project designed to improve access to health services. While Bolivia does have a national health system, a large segment of the population remains uninsured and/or financially unable to obtain health services. PROCOSI has developed a micro health insurance product that offers coverage for a standard set of health services at a low-price, for qualifying individuals and their families. Developing this type of program requires a lot of research and number-crunching to determine the optimal number of health services offered, price points, and policies sold to ensure financial viability. (I told you this wasn’t exciting.)

I’ve been tasked with identifying barriers that prevent persons from purchasing or using this insurance, and researching strategies to overcome these barriers. At the moment, I’m focused on patient education programs. Bolivia doesn’t have a culture of insurance like we do in the US. This makes it much harder to sell these policies because they’re seen as an unnecessary expense.

My work is an interesting combination of research, problem-solving, and creativity. It requires thinking outside of the box to identify strategies that are both feasible and culturally-appropriate. And it’s an incredible opportunity for me to be able to work on a project that will have a lasting, long-term impact on the lives of both the people and the government of Bolivia. And that is what makes policy development exciting.