Rio Beni Health Foundation
Bolivia is widely considered the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 70% of Bolivians do not have access to adequate health care, and this percentage increases significantly in the isolated areas of the upper Amazon basin where the Project is located. The country also has the second highest under 5 years old child mortality rate in the Americas, at 65 per 1000 live births, as well as the second highest infant mortality rate, at 52 per 1000.
The Rio Beni Health Project was initiated by Dr. Lou Netzer, a retired U.S. physician who settled along the shores of the Beni River after traveling throughout the area. Historically, the indigenous population of the region (primarily the Chimane, Mosetene, Tacana and Quechua Indians) had little to no access to primary health care services. Health concerns like gastrointestinal infections such as amoebic dysentery, giadiasis and various parasitic infections, as well as malaria, leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, malnutrition disorders, myriasis and impetigo were rampant.
With the support of national and local health and political authorities, and the important acceptance of his idea by the indigenous Indians in the area, he and his small staff initiated village visits on a regular basis in 1998. Christopher Brady, a long time friend with over 20 years working in community development in various countries in Latin America and Africa, joined Dr. Netzer in 1999 as the Project Coordinator, and the two began designing the expansion of the work and hiring local staff.
Until the founding of the non-profit organization Netzer-Brady International, the Project had been administered by Direct Relief International (2000-2004) and Concern America (2005-2008). Christopher has continued to coordinate the Project throughout the years,, working part-time with the local team in Bolivia.
Direct Relief International has provided yearly shipments of needed medical supplies and has incorporated the Rio Beni Project within its overall strategic plan and is committed to continue its support.
From its humble beginnings and grassroots approach, the Rio Beni Health Project has significantly expanded its services and geographic reach and remains the only regular health care access and public health education provider for tens of thousands of people.
In 2007, the Project team, with the encouragement of local government and health authorities, as well as the Bolivian Ministry of Health, applied for legal charitable foundation status within Bolivia. With ten years experience and close working relationships with municipal and provincial governments, the Project has been given its Foundation status. A strong national Board has been formed that will, along with Netzer-Brady International, advise and support the work of the Foundation for the long-term.
The Project founders had a vision to provide regular health care and education to meet the needs of remote villages. For the past 10 years this vision has evolved into a highly recognized and successful rural heath project. Despite the sudden death of Dr. Netzer in late 2002, the work has continued to expand, in honor of the the passion and commitment he had for the people of the Rio Beni.
The Ministry of Health and local government and health authorities consider the Project a clear example of a viable long-term approach to health care, and have requested that the work be expanded to an adjoining and equally remote region made up of 74 villages. The local team and Netzer-Brady International are studying this possibility.
While the work is in good hands and continues to effectively deliver health care attention and education, critical funds are needed to ensure that the Project has a long-term future and can expand to meet the local needs. The Rio Beni Health Project is funded entirely by foundation grants and the generosity of individuals through designated donations. The work is dependent upon contributions of people like you-- for the people of the Rio Beni region.
- Creating a much-needed medical services infrastructure in an isolated region with inadequate government resources.
- Regular outreach primary medical care and health education to nearly 60 communities, as well as a primary care clinic in the town of Rurrenabaque.
- Community potable water program through the construction of bio-sand filters and wells.
- Village health workers are trained over a three-year period in basic primary health care, hygiene and sanitation, providing primary care and education in their respective villages.
- Dedicated staff consisting of a local physician, two local nurses, a local community organizer and an administation/financial coordinator.
- Formal working agreements exist with local governments and municipalities ensuring continued collaboration and increased commitment to support the work.
- The Project team has become incorporated in Bolivia, and is now an official charitable health organization: The Rio Beni Health Foundation -- Fundación Salud Rio Beni.
- An estimated 25,000 Quechua, Chimane, Mosetene and Tacana Indians have been served by the Project.