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Medicine on the Move

In a region characterized by high rates of adolescent pregnancy and great income inequality, our services—which include contraception, gynecological consultations, and cervical cancer screenings and prevention—are more essential than ever. Our Mobile Health Unit initiative travel through remote countryside and traverse on impassable roads to bring health care to rural and poor communities in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.
Bolivia remains one of Latin America’s poorest nations, with more than half of its population living in poverty. Nearly four million Bolivians—or 62 percent of the population—are indigenous, yet they remain largely neglected by medical and social services due to extreme poverty, geographical isolation, and political alienation. In addition to the services our Member Association in Bolivia, CIES, offers through its 18 clinics, it has been reaching more than 220 isolated communities in south-central Bolivia with its Mobile Health Unit. In 2012, the Mobile Health Unit provided 93,000 services.
Providing Sexual & Reproductive
Health Services in Latin America
Map 01 The Mobile Health Unit team consists of a nurse, doctor, educator, and driver who work three weeks straight, visiting a different community each day. Follow the Mobile Health Unit team today via our interactive map and discover health care in the remote corners of Bolivia.

Click on one of the four locations the Mobile Health Unit visits below to start your journey!


Zudáñez is one of the headquarters for the Mobile Health Unit. There the team packs the vehicle with a stretcher, an oxygen tank, intravenous kits, a ready supply of contraception, and dozens of medications for common sicknesses. Then they set out for Rodeo Grande. The journey is only 160 miles, which would take approximately four hours, but given the conditions of the roads, the journey takes about eight hours.

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Prevention with Education

Comprehensive sexuality education has a critical role to play in reducing poverty and unintended pregnancies, and in empowering women and girls. For most Bolivian women, the Mobile Health Unit is their only source for information on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Watch this video to see the team’s health educator provide information to indigenous communities in the remote corners of Bolivia.

Rodeo Grande

There are approximately 650 inhabitants in the mountainous and barren community of Rodeo Grande. It is an impoverished town, lacking electricity and plumbing. The homes are made of rocks, straw, and adobe, and they lack bathrooms. Most kids walk three hours to get to school.

Cervical cancer is the most prevalent and lethal cancer among women in Bolivia, creating a serious public health and economic burden for an already struggling country. CIES began a successful cervical cancer vaccination project for girls in rural and urban areas. Watch this video to see girls being vaccinated in the community of Rodeo Grande.

“To all the girls from different countries who are reading this, I want to tell you: get vaccinated,”
says Elina Alvares, girl that was vaccinated in Rodeo Grande.

The Journey Continues

The team drives on impassable roads and mountainous cliffs to reach its next stop. Traveling along, the team passes through arid stretches and tranquil territory, only occasionally passing homes and other signs of life. Depending on the season, the team often has to navigate muddy terrain and riverbeds, which require careful—and often creative—driving.

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This is a community of about 600 people wedged between the mountains and the lowlands of Bolivia. Most people work in agriculture; corn is the main crop. A few families sell things like rice, oil, cookies, and sodas. During the rainy season there are mudslides, and the conditions make it nearly impossible for the Mobile Health Unit to arrive at Chapimayu.

"We have to use what we can," says Dr. Rosario Cervantes, as she glides a pocket-size, battery-operated ultrasound machine along the belly of a 16-year-old expectant mother who is stretched out on a makeshift examining table. A headlamp is still strapped to Dr. Cervantes’ head from the Pap smear she performed on another patient moments earlier. She speaks sweetly but directly to the apprehensive teenager gazing up at her. The patient shakes her head when asked whether she has received any prenatal care before.

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“The changes we’ve seen since the Mobile Health Units started arriving five years ago are that now people don’t have as many children as before. There’s family planning.”
– Leonidus Calderon Zelaya, health promoter.

Did you know?

More than one in five Bolivians has an unmet need for family planning, and Bolivia’s maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world. The lack of sexual and reproductive health care is particularly notable in the poorest areas of Bolivia.

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Totorenda La Montaña

This community is primarily inhabited by indigenous Guaraní populations. The road to this community is dusty and full of debris; some sections are difficult to traverse during the rainy season. The homes have two rooms: one for sleeping and one for cooking.

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"Most won't find anyone who even speaks their language," says Gloria Rivera, a nurse at the center's Mobile Health Unit. As she takes the blood pressure of a patient, the two chat in Guarani, her native language, which is spoken by most indigenous people in Bolivia's lowlands. For many women in Bolivia, particularly indigenous women, a hospital is a place of unintelligible Spanish and of doctors who criticize cultural practices that clash with Western medical doctrines.

Components of the Mobile Health Unit

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In 2012, the Mobile Health Unit in Bolivia provided more than 93,000 services.

Diary of the Mobile Health Unit member

6am The team wakes up with the sun, deflates our air mattresses, and folds our blankets. We arrived late last night in order to continue to provide Bolivia’s marginalized populations with lifesaving health care throughout the day.

8am The nurse begins conducting pre-appointment consultations with patients. She weighs the clients, takes their blood pressure, and records their height. The clients then wait to be examined by the doctor.

10am We’re so grateful for the extensive network of community volunteers and health promoters that assists the team. They go door-to-door to remind people of the times the Mobile Health Unit will be in the village/town. This ensures a maximum number of people will be present during the Mobile Health Unit visits.

7am We quickly transform the schoolhouse into a doctor’s office. A former door is turned into an exam bed. Basic medical equipment is sterilized and placed on a clean table. Despite limited resources, every attempt is made to provide high-quality services.

8:30am The doctor begins seeing one client after another. By the end of the day, the mobile health workers will have provided care to around 30 people. For most, it will be the first time they have ever received health care.

1pm Some of the community members kindly prepare special traditional dishes for lunch. Community leaders give speeches and community members do a short performance that focuses on pregnancy, family planning, and violence.

2:30pm After the lunch break, the team returns to the clinic and continues to provide health services. One particularly memorable client was an indigenous Guarani woman with tired eyes, who said that urination caused a burning sensation and her lower abdomen ached. "I'm worried about cervical cancer," says the 45 year-old grandmother of two as she waits to see the doctor. Half an hour later, the woman emerges, relieved. She was in the clear for now, she said. "I didn't even know what a cervix was before the mobile health units started arriving," she adds with an embarrassed half-smile.

7pm Once all of the clients have been seen, the team transforms the classroom space again–this time into a bedroom. They bring their own bedding and inflatable mattresses. If the space they use is not a school, they will often sleep in a church or some other community-gathering place.

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Give the Gift of Hope

The word for ‘hope’ in Guarani, an indigenous language in Bolivia, is moroäro.
Will you help lift the burden from vulnerable communities? Consider funding
a Mobile Health Unit for a day for just $350!


Our work is grounded in the belief that health care is a basic human right. IPPF/WHR works with trusted local organizations to bring much-needed services to impoverished, underserved, and marginalized communities. We’ve created innovative health care models that are cost-effective and viable in urban and rural settings.

The Result?

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More people use family planning, and there are fewer unwanted pregnancies and maternal deaths.