Improving communication systems to save lives in Bolivia

“There are HF radios closer to the community, thanks to the project. We can monitor and assist in emergencies or crises. Recently, a young man began to decompensate and needed immediate assistance, so we used the radio to communicate and ask for help. Now, we can tell an ambulance that they will be receiving a patient, and the ambulance will pick him up on time. This is life-changing.” – Remberto Terrazas, contact point in Riveralta.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, information access has been especially critical for communities to make informed, life-saving decisions. Unfortunately, Indigenous, Afro-descendant and other marginalized communities often lack regular access to communication platforms such as the internet, telephones or television, and misinformation spreads easily within the information ecosystem that does exist.

In 2021, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy awarded Internews a grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund to strengthen Indigenous, Afro-descendant and last-mile health networks and build trust around COVID-19 vaccines. Internews aimed to serve some of the most remote populations in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, including near-extinct Indigenous populations that could be devastated by COVID-19, by establishing healthier communication ecosystems to provide better information, equitable access and greater vaccine uptake.

In Bolivia, Internews’ CDP-supported project “The Power of Trust” provided a life-saving communication system for Bolivia’s Araona territory, which is currently at high risk of disappearance. According to Bolivian governmental data, 900 people lived in the Araona territory in 2012. However, according to observational data from Internews partners, the Araona territory now has only 400 residents, who are members of 60 families. To access a health center, Araona community members must walk for four days, and only two of the territory’s eight communities have schools.

Through The Power of Trust project, Internews worked with community members, leaders and local partners to install high frequency (HF) radio systems and provide maintenance training to ensure their long-term sustainability.

In the Araona territory, HF radios offer one of the only means of communication for community members to request critical medical attention and receive information. The CDP-supported installations came at a crucial moment to ensure that Araona communities are prepared to respond to ongoing challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and are well-positioned to prevent future crises.

Thanks to The Power of Trust project, 50% of the eight communities in the Araona territory can now coordinate care with other community leaders and communicate directly with health experts at the Sena Hospital to arrange air transport or urgent medical attention without relying on the state or outside support. Community members are not only prepared to respond to emergencies but they are also equipped with the capacity to self-sustain critical communication systems. Additionally, the radios facilitate regular communication between communities, enabling Araona individuals to build skills to market their products, strengthening their community livelihoods and helping them prepare for crises.

CDP is proud to support Internews and its efforts to strengthen intercultural health networks, improve communication systems, and increase access to life-saving information in at-risk and marginalized communities.

Story by Ruja Entcheva

*This impact story was adapted from content submitted by Internews.

Photo: Araona Indigenous community member in Barrero communicating with Riberalta. Credit: Grupo Tabano; photo provided by Internews.