BusinessDay

How Solar Power is Reducing Maternal Mortality Rates in Zimbabwe

A renewable energy innovation has improved obstetric care to last-mile communities across Zimbabwe, successfully supporting over 180,000 deliveries per year since its introduction, According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency,

Many medical facilities in Zimbabwe lack electricity and clinicians struggle in near darkness to provide lifesaving care to patients

“At night, we faced many challenges because we relied on candles to conduct medical services. It was scary, especially during complications,” said Tendai Matimbe, Nurse-in-Charge at the Kamabarami Health Clinic, Zimbabwe.

The local clinics tend to pregnant mothers, children, and HIV-positive people in need of anti-retroviral therapy (ART). While he and his colleagues conduct consultations in the morning and outpatient visits until 4 pm,

Without a source of light, health workers faced issues such as difficulty in administering Nevirapine (a medication to reduce the likelihood of maternal HIV transmission) to newborn babies.

Healthcare workers across the sub-Saharan Africa region face similar challenges every day. Medical facilities in Zimbabwe feature among the 70 per cent of facilities across the region without reliable access to electricity, according to a joint report by IRENA and other SDG 7 custodian organisations.

Read also: Boosting Nigeria’s electricity access using the solar mini grids

To combat this, We Care Solar, a non-profit organisation, started introducing the Solar Suitcase to health centres in Zimbabwe in 2015. It is an easy-to-use solar electric system that provides last-mile health facilities with highly efficient medical lighting and power for mobile communication and small medical devices.

The Kamabarami Clinic received the suitcase in 2019. Overnight, Tendai and his team found their work transformed.

The practical and portable source of clean, steady electricity ensured that night-time deliveries and emergencies were no longer fraught with candle-lit uncertainty.

Tendai says: “Attending to patients has become easier now, even at night. With the fetal doppler, we can listen to the fetal heart rate easily. With the lights, we can detect fetal abnormalities on the baby, especially when there is birth asphyxia.”

The clinic has seen an increase in productivity and lower maternal mortality rates since the introduction of solar power. The Solar Suitcases are now operational across 759 health centres in Zimbabwe, supporting more than 180,000 deliveries each year.

While this progress is encouraging, much more can be done. At present, Zimbabwe is tapping only a fraction of its full solar potential, estimated to be more than four gigawatts. In 2020, the country installed just 6 MW of new solar energy and now has a total installed capacity of 17 MW.

Despite this, renewable-based systems used to power rural health clinics are already having a transformative impact on the quality of life of rural communities, like the case of Tendai and the Kamabarami Health Clinic.

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