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Dr. George Bevier was the director of the Rockefeller Foundation's public health initiative in Bolivia from 1946 until the program ended in 1952. The RF first became involved in Bolivia to fight against an outbreak of yellow fever in 1932, many years after it had begun programs in more scientifically advanced countries like Brazil and Mexico. The RF had the luxury of only combating the ills it chose to address, and it focused on yellow fever, as opposed to more deadly diseases like malaria, because the RF had proven itself capable of eliminating urban yellow fever quickly and efficiently.
Although the RF's overall emphasis in Latin America began changing in the 1940s from public health to education, the RF did not consider Bolivia advanced enough to benefit from such programs. Instead, under the leadership of Bevier, it took on an even broader range of public health responsibilities, including campaigns against malaria, yaws, typhus, and hookworm. The largest challenge that Bevier faced in Bolivia was a 1950 outbreak of yellow fever. Torrential rains had washed away roads and landing strips, so RF doctors were forced to travel by horse to remote areas in order to inoculate people in the danger zone. Despite these efforts, Bevier and the RF became subject to public attack for allowing the outbreak to occur.
The RF was initially welcomed in Bolivia and made several important contributions to its public health, but Bolivia's increasingly nationalistic political climate encouraged local doctors to reject the RF as a supposed agent of imperialism. Yet both Bolivian and U.S. doctors, including Bevier, shared the same elitist and racist understanding of Bolivian society. They all blamed Bolivia's many public health issues on Indians (a mostly impoverished group that made up almost 80% of the population), citing Indian ignorance and drunkenness as the obstacle to improving public health when, in reality, it was a much more complicated confluence of social problems.
Reference: Zulawski, Ann. Unequal Cures: Public Health and Political Change in Bolivia, 1900-1950. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
CITATION: Zulawski, Ann. Unequal Cures: Public Health and Political Change in Bolivia, 1900-1950. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007, pp. 105. Courtesy of the Rockefeller Foundation Archives.
DIGITAL ID: 12995