Personal and political histories in the designing of health reform policy in Bolivia
Soc Sci Med. 2017 Mar;177:231-238. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.028. Epub 2017 Jan 21.
While health policies are a major focus in disciplines such as public health and public policy, there is a dearth of work on the histories, social contexts, and personalities behind the development of these policies. This article takes an anthropological approach to the study of a health policy's origins, based on ethnographic research conducted in Bolivia between 2010 and 2012. Bolivia began a process of health care reform in 2006, following the election of Evo Morales Ayma, the country's first indigenous president, and leader of the Movement Toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialism). Brought into power through the momentum of indigenous social movements, the MAS government platform addressed racism, colonialism, and human rights in a number of major reforms, with a focus on cultural identity and indigeneity. One of the MAS's projects was the design of a new national health policy in 2008 called The Family Community Intercultural Health Policy (Salud Familiar Comunitaria Intercultural). This policy aimed to address major health inequities through primary care in a country that is over 60% indigenous. Methods used were interviews with Bolivian policymakers and other stakeholders, participant observation at health policy conferences and in rural community health programs that served as models for aspects of the policy, and document analysis to identify core premises and ideological areas. I argue that health policies are historical both in their relationship to national contexts and events on a timeline, but also because of the ways they intertwine with participants' personal histories, theoretical frameworks, and reflections on national historical events. By studying the Bolivian policymaking process, and particularly those who helped design the policy, it is possible to understand how and why particular progressive ideas were able to translate into policy. More broadly, this work also suggests how a uniquely anthropological approach to the study of health policy can contribute to other disciplines that focus on policy analysis and policy processes.