Powering Quality Hospital Care with Solar Energy

 {Photo credit: MSH}Solar panels being installed at the Mukanga General Reference Hospital.Photo credit: MSH

Surgical lamps. Ultrasound machines. Autoclaves. These are essential pieces of equipment in any hospital, and they all run on electricity. In the remote areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, electricity is a rare commodity. In Mukanga, a rural health zone in Katanga Province, the lack of electrical power was putting sick people at greater risk of death, says Dr. Kasongo Nkulu, Medical Director of Mukanga General Reference Hospital.

Residents of Mukanga, a population of about 192,000 people, were already facing great risks. Health issues include tuberculosis, cholera epidemics, and high rates of maternal and child mortality. Mukanga has very few roads, and so is quite isolated. Travel to the hospital is difficult. In the past, many people didn’t bother to go to the hospital when they were sick, since so few services could be provided.

The situation began to change in October 2012, when the USAID-funded DRC-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP) arrived in the area with a mandate to revitalize health services.  Led by Management Sciences for Health with partners the International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, DRC-IHP is working to improve the basic health conditions of the Congolese people in 80 health zones in four provinces.

Realizing the special needs of the General Reference Hospital, DRC-IHP provided the hospital with a 3.4 kilowatt solar power kit, which generates up to eight hours of electricity at one time. This is enough to provide power to the hospital’s maternity ward, operating rooms, pediatric care center, and the cold chain system that stores medicines.

The hospital is now seeing more patients. In September 2012, prior to the installation of the solar power system, the number of inpatient admissions was 173. In October, that number jumped to 405. The hospital had six cases of post-op infections in September but reported no cases at all between October 2012 and March 2013.

"Prior to the installation of the solar panels, we had an ultrasound and a signal lamp for surgeries that were useless; our rate for detecting pregnancy complications was low and often ended with complex surgical procedures that could lead to death,” Dr. Nkulu says. “But today, thanks to DRC-IHP, we are finally saving lives. The community is now confident in our ability to treat them.”