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Open Access Research

Where are the NGOs and why? The distribution of health and development NGOs in Bolivia

Lindsay P Galway1*, Kitty K Corbett1 and Leilei Zeng2

  • * Corresponding author: Lindsay P Galway

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Blusson Hall 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6, Canada

2 Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, Waterloo University, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON, Canada

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Globalization and Health 2012, 8:38  doi:10.1186/1744-8603-8-38

Published: 23 November 2012



The presence and influence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the landscape of global health and development have dramatically increased over the past several decades. The distribution of NGO activity and the ways in which contextual factors influence the distribution of NGO activity across geographies merit study. This paper explores the distribution of NGO activity, using Bolivia as a case study, and identifies local factors that are related to the distribution of NGO activity across municipalities in Bolivia.


The research question is addressed using a geographic information system (GIS) and multiple regression analyses of count data. We used count data of the total number of NGO projects across Bolivian municipalities to measure NGO activity both in general and in the health sector specifically and national census data for explanatory variables of interest.


This study provides one of the first empirical analyses exploring factors related to the distribution of NGO activity at the national scale. Our analyses show that NGO activity in Bolivia, both in general and health-sector specific, is distributed unevenly across the country. Results indicate that NGO activity is related to population size, extent of urbanization, size of the indigenous population, and health system coverage. Results for NGO activity in general and health-sector specific NGO activity were similar.


The uneven distribution of NGO activity may suggest a lack of co-ordination among NGOs working in Bolivia as well as a lack of co-ordination among NGO funders. Co-ordination of NGO activity is most needed in regions characterized by high NGO activity in order to avoid duplication of services and programmes and inefficient use of limited resources. Our findings also indicate that neither general nor health specific NGO activity is related to population need, when defined as population health status or education level or poverty levels. Considering these results we discuss broader implications for global health and development and make several recommendations relevant for development and health practice and research.

Nongovernmental organizations; NGOs; Global health and development; Bolivia; Multiple regression; Count data