Bentoe Tehoungue, Director of Family Health at Liberia’s Ministry of Health, sent out an email recently calling for help in facing the COVID-19 pandemic. “Please consider this communication as an SOS call from Liberia,” she wrote. Her primary request wasn’t for ventilators, PPE, or even oxygen to respond to the spread of the coronavirus, it was a call for light and electricity.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not only exposing glaring deficiencies in fragile health systems— Liberia has less than a handful of working ventilators—it is threatening to erode hard-earned gains in maternal-child health (MCH). Globally, 300,000 women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths could be prevented with prompt access to emergency obstetric care. High rates occur in regions marked by widespread poverty, limited education, scant antenatal care, and other factors leading to delays in identifying and treating pregnancy complications. Public health agencies have been steadily working to improve MCH indicators: building a network of community health workers, discouraging home deliveries, developing emergency transport schemes, boosting midwifery skills, and improving health care infrastructure.
Policymakers and development organization have hard decisions to make: how to focus on COVID-19 without dismantling many of these achievements.
“We have learned from the Ebola experience,” Bentoe states. “We are trying to strengthen the normal services so we don’t have the adverse effects we had with Ebola.” During that epidemic, more women chose to deliver at home, fearing health centers. It is estimated that the indirect obstetric deaths from home deliveries in West Africa were as numerous as the direct deaths from Ebola itself.
Liberia is working to mobilize protective gear for every health facility and set up triage stations and isolation rooms. To provide quality medical care, health workers need personal protective equipment, basic supplies, like thermometers, soap, and water, and brightly lit spaces to triage and isolate people with symptoms until they transfer to higher level facilities.
If health workers are unprepared with protective gear and basic supplies, their personal fear is overwhelming and the consequences on health services can be disastrous. Imagine the experience of health workers who are expected to provide frontline care in near-darkness. Some health workers have turned away expectant mothers in labor– resulting in deliveries without skilled providers or equipment. “One mother gave birth in a home adjacent to the health center after she was turned away from the clinic,” Bentoe reports. “Another tried to walk home and gave birth in the community being assisted by an unskilled attendant as well.”
“COVID-19 has increased the need for lighting at all of our facilities,” Bentoe continues “and added the burden for lighting critical areas in the health facilities, including the triage station, isolation areas among others. This SOS is to help address this serious problem that affects the women we are trying very hard to serve and protect.”
These concerns are not unique to Liberia. Dr. Charles Olaro, Director of Curative Services at the Ministry of Health in Uganda, has requested solar electricity for isolation centers and medical facilities.
“Electricity, even without COVID-19, is one of the essentials you need for effective service delivery. With COVID-19 it is more essential in terms of infection prevention and control, both at the points of isolation but also at the points of quarantine.” Dr. Olaro fears the impact on other health outcomes. “We don’t want to lose focus and have more deaths from causes other than COVID. You want to be sure that mothers will still be able to deliver, and that emergency care, surgical care, and any other services can continue. Electricity is essential, with or without COVID.”
Dr. Bernard Madzima at the Ministry of Health in Zimbabwe concurs. “In Zimbabwe, we know the health system was already challenged before COVID-19 and this makes things worse. We have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and we have to be ready for the worst-case scenario. It has become even more important to have electricity now.”
Although the situation is challenging, COVID-19 also offers an opportunity. Global attention on public health care provides a spotlight on deficiencies that have plagued African health centers for decades: a lack of running water, inadequate supplies of standard equipment and unreliable electricity. With this spotlight comes an opportunity to accelerate efforts to achieve sustainable energy for all health care institutions.
As Dr. Madzima reminds us, “For us, having light should be part of the protective equipment. At the heath facilities that are going to be dealing with COVID-19 they should have adequate light for testing, for isolation, and for adequate treatment. We should take this as the opportunity to strengthen all the components of health system delivery, including infrastructure, including lighting.”
Laura E. Stachel, MD MPH is the Executive Director and co-founder of We Care Solar. She is a former obstetrician-gynecologist with fourteen years of clinical experience. She serves on the Editorial Board for the Berkeley Wellness Letter and co-chaired an international working group on Energy and Health for the UN Foundation. She speaks around the world on the nexus of energy access, health care, climate change, and gender equity.
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Renewables Salone as part of its website working group held a one day Joomla content training on Wednesday 29th May, 2019 at the GIZ Country Office for participants interested to add content to the platform.
The purpose of the training was to get participants up to speed with Joomla i.e. the platform on which the renewables-salone.info website is built.
Kofi Macauley, president of the Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone (REASL) has on Monday 22nd July 2019 paid a courtesy call to GIZ/EnDev an Energy Access program promoting sustainable access to modern energy services globally.
The purpose of his visit was to acquaint himself with the activities of GIZ/EnDev in the country and to identify areas in which GIZ/EnDev and REASL can strengthen collaboration.
Since the inception of REASL, GIZ/EnDev has provided them with a shared office space as part of the program’s support to the renewable energy sector in Sierra Leone.
In their introduction, the GIZ/EnDev team thanked him for such a kind gesture benefitting from one of his first visits as president. They went further to highlight some of the activities they are engaged in. The activities include
A report of the impact the Off-grid industry is having on the workforce in Africa and Asia. Please click on the link below to read the full report by GOGLA https://www.gogla.org/resources/off-grid-solar-a-growth-engine-for-jobs.
The renewables salone website working group has successfully held a fourth working group meeting at the EWRC office, Berwick Street on the 7th May 2019.
The working group comprises of members from different institutions, companies and organisations that have volunteered to make the renewables salone website a platfrom for coordination, networking and a centre for all renewable energy information in Sierra Leone.
This website was developed by the GIZ – Energising Development Programme (EnDev) as part of their support to the renewable energy sector to promote access to modern energy services in the country.
The Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone (REASL) has on Thursday 11th July 2019 conducted elections to select new executive members to the organization’s board.
GIZ Energising Development project (EnDev) was mandated to act as returning officers and conduct the elections. This was to ensure that the process was transparent and deemed free and fair by all.
Before the elections, the minutes of the last AGM was adopted by the members of the association and the outgoing executive board dissolved.
The elections started with the reading of the elections procedures by Foday Sheku Dumbuya (EnDev) to make sure that all delegates understand the rules governing the elections. This was followed by nominations and election of the president. Two people contested for the presidency (Wordsworth Cole and Kofi Macauley) and Kofi Macauley emerged as the winner with 53% of the votes cast.
The Sierra Leone Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (SLEWRC) together with UNOPS, the Ministry of Energy, and the mini-grid operators (Off Grid Power, Winch Energy and Power Leone) held an eleven days’ community engagement on proposed tariff at 13 locations under the Ministry of Energy’s Rural Renewable Energy Project (RREP).
The locations include Sandaru, Penguia Chiefdom in Kailahun District; Bumpeh, Bumpe Ngawo Chiefdom in Bo District; Bandajuma Sowa, Sowa Chiefdom in Pujehun District; Bauya Kongbora Chiedom in Moyamba District; Tihun, Sogbini Chiefdom in Bonthe District; Gandorhun, Gbane Chiefdom in Kono District; Mara,
For years, I have been dreaming of contributing to Sierra Leone to help re-build this beautiful country. There is so much to be done. The last few years I started a project called 'Light Salone', with the aim of providing small-scale renewable energy to rural areas in Sierra Leone. We are a team of 10 people working passionately to innovate, with low-cost engineering solutions
In 2017 I was awarded Innovator of the year in Sierra Leone by the UNDP for my work on electricity. Over the years I have being working on providing electricity for my community through innovative ways of recycling waste material to valuable energy machines that can generate electricity for homes and small businesses.
We Care Solar has concluded a one-day orientation event for Solar and Health Partners. The event was held at the Jam Lodge hotel situated at Congo Cross on the 9th July, 2019. Stakeholders in the Health and Energy sector were in attendance to grace the occasion. The event started with brief introductions of the attendees and the work their organization is doing in the Health and Energy sectors.
Presentations was done by Chritina Briegleb and Anael Hamilton followed by interactive question and answer session.
About We Care Solar
We Care Solar a non-profit organization based in California dedicated to improving maternal health care in health facilities through access to renewable energy. We Care Solar envisions a world where women around the world survive childbirth, obtain life-saving care without necessary delays, and give birth with dignity in well-equipped, well-lit health facilities.
Since 2010, We Care Solar has designed technology and developed programs to bring compact rugged solar electric systems – We Care Solar Suitcases – to under-resourced health centers. To date, more than 3,500 health centers in Africa and Asia have been equipped with this technology.
“It is the rainy season! Your systems need protection now more than ever”, was the slogan by the Energising Development Programme (EnDev) in the invitation sent to participants for the workshop.
On the 6th June 2019, the Energising Development Programme conducted a lighting protection training for solar engineers, installers and technicians at the GIZ Country Office conference room, Wilkinson Road.
“The objective of the training was to invigorate, increase the understanding and accentuate on the need for proper protection from lighting strikes to ensure reliability, trust and sustainability of solar systems. A poorly designed lighting protection can always create destruction and damages on systems and consequently create distrust in solar systems.” These were the introductory words of the EnDev Technical Coordinator, Johannes Weber who was the facilitator of the workshop.
GIZ/Energising Development (EnDev) project has on today the 1st March, 2019 agreed to pay the tuition fees of fifty five (55) female student’s studying Renewable Energy at the Government Technical Institute (GTI), Kissy Dockyard.
The figure which will accumulate to Forty Two Million Leones (Le 42,000,000) will cover tuition and examination fees of the students until graduation. This initiative confirms Endev’s commitment to support Renewable Energy Sector and also to empower women to be major players in the RE sector.