The Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) is dedicated to making the Americas healthier for everyone. PAHEF financed a grant to World Neighbors, an NGO from the United States, to develop a project promoting better practices in infant nutrition and overall health in the remote Potosi region of Bolivia.


Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere; nearly two-thirds of its population lives on less than US$2 a day. Over 60 percent of the population is indigenous and lives in remote, rural areas where food security and child malnutrition are serious issues.

In Potosi, there are many cultural challenges and sensitive issues relating to breastfeeding. Some of the negative beliefs are that breastfeeding a child immediately after birth causes babies to cry and feel pain or that breastfeeding eventually leads to chronic hunger and disrespectful children. By making the World Neighbors project possible, PAHEF’s support actively promotes the protection and advancement of infant and maternal health in Latin America.

The Project

Potosi is one of Bolivia’s poorest and most remote regions. A high altitude and harsh climate make it an extremely difficult place to live. The indigenous women of Potosi lead challenging and busy lives. Their days are spent working hard to take care of their families, crops, and livestock. Together, PAHEF and World Neighbors’ goal was to change negative cultural perceptions about breastfeeding, improve family health, and encourage female empowerment.

During the first six months of the project, six different communities were identified and studied. Researchers explored:

  • the attitudes, practices, and restrictions in maternal breastfeeding through intimate focus groups and participant observation; and
  • the roles of parents and grandparents were examined and analyzed, in relation to breastfeeding.
During the following nine months, World Neighbors developed and carried out a pilot intervention program. The program included:
  • group and individual training for families, instructing them on the importance of breastfeeding; and
  • the modification of traditional recipes, which are heavy on potatoes and low on nutrients, to become healthier for young children.

Results and the Future

To date, the changes promoted by the project have helped half of the undernourished children reach a healthy weight. The project’s ongoing challenge will be to improve and reshape local perceptions, beliefs, and customs about breastfeeding to advance infant and maternal health in the region.

Nutritional deficiencies start within the first few minutes of life, and breastfeeding is a key aspect in improving overall family health. Intimate and trustworthy relationships were established with the communities during the program and mothers are taking the necessary steps to improve their children’s health. PAHEF’s contribution played an important role in advancing health for the infants of Potosi.

Locations of PAHEF/PAHO's PALTEX Points of Sale