Green energy saves mothers' lives

Friday, 2 Nov 2018
  • Solar lighting system
    Solar lighting system
  • Solar panels
    Solar panels
“Now that we have solar power, powering the maternity unit, […], we shall provide quality service to the community." Power outages have made it impossible for Kenyan health facilities to provide vital services but solar panels offer a solution which improves maternal care without harming the planet.

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 health facilities is a challenge in Kenya, with frequent power outages, that can last up to 10 hours. It is estimated that 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 for health services at night, and they cannot power any electrical equipment. Even facilities which are linked 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. After assessing the needs and energy requirements of maternity units, as part of the project’s green energy commitments, MANI installed clean energy units in 33 health facilities, each with a capacity of 55 Kwp. 13 solar water heating systems were also installed, along with rain water harvesting systems in 40 facilities.

Sirisia Sub-County Hospital

Sirisia is one of Bungoma’s nine sub-county hospitals. In 2016, the centre registered over 1,500 deliveries, but also recorded 23 perinatal deaths. The facility is connected to the grid, but despite this, it experiences frequent power outages, often three times in a week.

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 unit. 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.

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 maternity unit, including a TV set in the maternity is also powered by solar, entertaining mothers”.

Improving the quality of care provided improves health outcomes and encourages people to use the facility. Women attending Sirisia have noticed the difference solar energy has made to their experience of delivery. Catherine Wanjala 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. This place has become very comfortable.”

Why green energy?

The solar panels have made the health centres more environmentally friendly as well as improving the quality of care. The facilities equipped with panels reduced their carbon emissions by 17,208kgs by producing their own energy during the six-month period from January to June 2018. It’s estimated that this self-sufficient energy production has saved the centres KES 540,804 (USD 5,335) which would otherwise have been spent on accessing power from the national grid.

Health, climate change, and clean energy are Sustainable Development Goals and critical for improving maternal and newborn health outcomes. They are highly interconnected, with the intersection of these elements being described by the World Health Organisation as the ‘Health & Energy Nexus’.

As a signatory to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Kenya is committed to these goals and has created public policy to improve access to clean, renewable energy and reduce the country’s carbon footprint. It has therefore become a statutory regulation for any premise under the jurisdiction of the local authorities, to install solar heating systems if they require more than 100 litres of hot water per day. By installing panels at maternity units, MANI has ensured that health centres are working towards these national environmental targets whilst simultaneously raising standards of care.

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