Solar Suitcases bring joy to mothers and relief to health workers in Karamoja

Last week while on a UN Women funded trip to Karamoja to follow –up the progress on powering health facilities, I met a nursing officer Achech Rebecca at Rupa health Centre III and in the course of a brief conversation with her, I asked how many babies she had delivered.

I have lost count of the babies that I have delivered because to me, it’s one of those things that you do so naturally when you go to work,” she said with a broad infectious smile.

Being the curious person that I am, I asked her if anything scared her when she’s delivering a child. Her answer: “I always pray that the solar power does not run out in the middle of a delivery.”

Has it ever happened? I probe further.  Yes, and I used the small torch on my phone to complete the delivery which was a success. She replies with another smile. When I asked her what inspired her into nursing, she was quick to say that she admired the nursing attire and had not only always wanted to see how mothers deliver but to help them do it. She is living her dream.

Acech is among the many dedicated health workers across Karamoja region who do not take this intervention of powering health facilities for granted. She is an ardent advocate for the expansion and promotion of solar energy in the primary health care units because she, like many of her colleagues, believes that more solar energy in the health sector can spur a revolution by boosting the standard and reliability of health delivery services in the country especially those areas that are not yet on the national power grid. She has worked in Karamoja before there was anything close to solar lighting and she knows what benefits solar has brought to not only mothers
but health workers like her.

Solar Suitcases given by UNICEF through Doctors without Boarder- CUAMM have changed our lives here in Karamoja. More mothers are now coming to deliver at health centres. Which was not the case before. If Midwives use touches or phones to deliver women, they go to Traditional Birth Attendant. That is risky in case of
a complication, said Acech

When I joined the UN Women team for this trip, I had always considered solar in the context of electricity for homes and businesses and not child delivery in health centers. With only a solar suitcase, lives are transformed. This shows the massive potential solar energy has to help other areas of development. There is a clear business case for why solar is fast becoming a mainstream technology for providing power even in non-energy sectors like health and agriculture.

According to the Kotido district health Officer Phillip Olinga, the biggest hurdle in adopting solar power is the high upfront cost.  The total cost for setting up such a system estimated for a single community health centers is roughly $5000. An off grid health solar roof project in Karamoja could cost around $2500 – $3500. The grid is cheaper but it’s not an option in these remote locations of Karamoja.

Dr. Sharif Nalibe the District health officer of Kabong said that while solar is the best solution for now, his
advice to government and development partners is to look at wind energy as an alternative source of power in Karamoja where wind is a free and readily available resource.