June 28, 2024

Lesotho Health Centres Benefit from Solar Energy

Building on the success of PIH-supported solar projects in Haiti and Peru, Lesotho has now equipped every Rural Health Initiative (RI) site with solar infrastructure, significantly enhancing healthcare delivery across the country.

Life before Solar Installation

Electricity is indispensable in the realm of healthcare. It powers the delivery of babies, operates diagnostic machines, and refrigerated vaccines. Yet, many health centers in low- and middle-income countries struggle with unreliable electricity. This was a significant challenge for Partners In Health (PIH) Lesotho until recently, when a transformative solar project was implemented.

Before the solar installations, the seven RI sites in Lesotho were reliant on diesel generators. Bonang Mpinane, PIH Lesotho’s director of operations described this as an "unreliable and unclean source of electricity." The dependence on diesel posed logistical challenges and was financially draining. "Even the vehicles transporting the diesel ran on diesel. It was very, very costly," Mpinane noted. This diesel dependency led to frequent power outages, severely impacting the delivery of healthcare services.

Health providers faced operational constraints, with frequent power outages disrupting their work. Mpinane painted a stark picture: "Imagine going into labor in the middle of the night without power. Nurses used gas lamps, which were not reliable." Medical equipment, such as ultrasound machines, often remained unused due to the inconsistent electricity supply.

Transition to Solar Power

In a bid to address these challenges, PIH Lesotho partnered with OnePower Lesotho, a renewable energy company. By the end of 2022, solar power infrastructure was installed across all seven RI sites. This transition marked a significant breakthrough, transforming the clinics' power supply from unreliable diesel to sustainable solar energy.

Mpinane highlighted the benefits: "We now have a sustainable and reliable source of electricity, avoiding most of the operational disruptions we used to experience." Before the solar installations, power outages occurred about five times a week, each lasting several hours. With solar power, these interruptions have been virtually eliminated.

The shift to solar energy has also yielded substantial financial savings. Previously, each RI site spent around $700 per month on diesel for generators alone. Post-installation, this cost has been halved to approximately $350 per month. Additionally, maintenance costs for the solar infrastructure are significantly lower than those for aging diesel generators.

Mpinane explained the broader financial implications: "We used to spend a lot on diesel and generator maintenance. Now, the money saved can be reallocated to human resources, medical equipment, and enhancing essential healthcare services."

Beyond financial savings, the solar project has improved safety and operational efficiency. "We now have proper wiring, which is much safer," Mpinane stated. The reliable power supply has enabled the use of more medical equipment, improving diagnosis and treatment for patients.

Sustainability and Future Prospects

The solar initiative has also had a ripple effect on the quality of care. With continuous power, clinics can now fully utilize diagnostic machines and other medical equipment, leading to better patient outcomes. The reallocation of resources has strengthened overall healthcare services, enhancing the quality of care provided.

While solar power has vastly improved the situation, the clinics still retain diesel generators as backup, particularly for days with insufficient sunlight during winter. This dual system ensures a continuous power supply, safeguarding against any potential disruptions.

Mpinane is optimistic about the future, noting that the success of the solar project could serve as a model for other low- and middle-income countries facing similar challenges. The project demonstrates the potential of renewable energy to enhance healthcare delivery, improve safety, and achieve significant cost savings.

The solar project in Lesotho's RI clinics is a testament to the transformative power of renewable energy in the healthcare sector. By replacing unreliable diesel generators with sustainable solar power, PIH Lesotho has not only improved the quality of care but also achieved substantial financial savings. This initiative stands as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path towards a more sustainable and efficient healthcare system.

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