Solar power energy saves babies’ lives

Wednesday, 6 Dec 2017
  • Solar lighting system
    Solar lighting system
  • Solar panels
    Solar panels
"“Now that we have solar power, supported by MANI, powering the maternity unit, lighting, supporting critical equipment and powering the incubators in the newborn unit, we shall provide quality service to the community and reduce basic emergency referrals to Bungoma Referral Hospital."

Power and electricity is critical to provide quality maternal and newborn health services. It is needed to provide light 24 hours a day for labour and deliveries, to power equipment for emergencies, such as incubators and resuscitation units, and to run fridges that store vaccines and blood supplies. Hot water is also needed for mothers to bathe after giving birth.

However, access to energy in the health sector is a challenge in Kenya, with frequent and sometimes long power outages that can last up to 10 hours. Between 50 - 75% of all health facilities and 75% of district hospitals are currently connected to the grid. Facilities that are not connected to the grid rely on kerosene lamps, candles and phones to provide light in health services at night, and cannot power any equipment. Facilities that are connected to the grid can face outages due to domestic fluctuations in electricity supply, and often rely on the use of back-up generators for continuous power.

What we are doing

The Maternal and Newborn Improvement (MANI) project has been working since 2015 to strengthen Bungoma County’s health system to provide quality maternal and newborn services. MANI introduced a green energy component to the project in 2016, following the provision of earmarked funding for climate change. MANI conducted an energy audit in 60 health facilities, assessing energy requirements in the maternity. As a result, 33 health facilities were selected for energy installations. In total, MANI is installing a clean energy capacity of 55 Kwp and 13 solar water heating systems in 33 health facilities, and rain water harvesting systems in 40 facilities.

Sirisia Sub-County Hospital

Sirisia is one of Bungoma’s nine sub-county hospitals. It serves a catchment population of roughly 39,000 people, and the facility recorded over 1,500 deliveries in 2016. In the same year the hospital also recorded 23 perinatal deaths. Sirisia provides basic emergency obstetric care services, so is able to manage routine complications of delivery but does not conduct caesarean sections.

The facility is connected to the grid with three phase power, which is the most common method used by electrical grids worldwide to transfer power, particularly by large motors and for heavy loads. Despite this, it experiences frequent power outages, often three times in a week and with outages lasting up to 10 hours.

Mrs. Emily Wamalwa, the Hospital Nursing Officer in Charge, describes the impact of these outages:

“Every time we get black outs, we use kerosene lamps to perform deliveries and we have to refer the infants with complications to Bungoma County Referral Hospital. In 2016, we lost more than 10 babies with complications, who we could not resuscitate as a result of power outages”.

MANI installed a 7.5 Kwp solar power backup and a 200 litre solar water heating system for the maternity. The lighting system includes solar panels, a charge controller, inverter and battery bank. Fluorescent lights in the maternity were also retrofitted with LED bulbs, which will reduce power consumption and the facility’s electricity bills in the long run. The solar lighting system also includes an energy management system to monitor loads on solar and battery discharge.

Improving quality

Dr. Akoto, the Hospital Medical Superintendent, summed up the outcomes of green energy solutions:

“Now that we have solar power, supported by MANI, powering the maternity unit, lighting, supporting critical equipment and powering the incubators in the newborn unit, we shall provide quality service to the community and reduce basic emergency referrals to Bungoma Referral Hospital. The solar water heating system also is a great addition for the comfort of mothers in this facility; they will be able to shower with warm water while at the maternityunit, including a TV set in the maternity is also powered by solar, entertaining mothers”.

Improving the quality of care provided improves health outcomes, and also motivates clients to use and recommend these services. Women attending Sirisia are already commenting on the difference solar energy has made to their experience of delivery. Catherine Wanjala, a 26-year-old from Malinda village, has five children and has delivered all of them at the facility. She describes the difference between her previous deliveries and the most recent:

“There were numerous blackouts and we used to shower with cold water. But now I showered with warm water and we haven’t experienced any blackouts; we have also watched television all this time. This place has become very comfortable.”

Why green energy?

The intersection of health, renewable energy and climate action is called the Health & Energy Nexus. These three sustainable development goals are highly interconnected, and are critical for improving maternal and newborn health outcomes. Globally, efforts are being made to adopt cleaner and more sustainable energy options, and to minimise the impact of climate change by reducing carbon emissions. Kenya supports this goal and is a signatory to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Kenya’s Climate Change Act of 2016 and the country’s Climate Change Action Plan require all sectors to improve access to clean renewable energy with the aim of reducing Kenya’s carbon footprint. The Kenya Energy Regulatory Commission requires all premises under the jurisdiction of local authorities with hot water requirements exceeding 100 litres per day to install and use solar heating systems.

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