The Gambia has over 100 rural government health clinics and health centers. Staffed by nurses and midwifes, most clinics do not have access to reliable electricity. At night, with no lights, no way to charge a cell phone, and now way to power equipment, frustration mounts for the staff as they cannot properly attend to their patients needs, or check on a laboring mothers progress. When nighttime emergencies strike, there is often very little nurses can do in the dark. Power Up Gambia can help by providing solar power energy solutions to these clinics, helping them to keep the lights on and meet their patients needs.
Our first clinic project was at Somita Clinic. Members of the Somita Village Clinic Development Committee approached Power Up Gambia during construction of the Bwiam Hospital solar power project, and asked if their clinic could have a similar but smaller solar power system. Serving a village of 5,000 plus several surrounding villages as well, the clinic has two wards, a pharmacy, a laboratory, and a labor and delivery room. In 2010, Power Up Gambia completed the 1.4 kilowatt solar system with battery backup, dedicated it and presented it to the village for their use and upkeep at the clinic.
The experiences building the Somita Clinic project were invaluable. It was readily apparent that PUG would not be able to replicate this type of system at all 100+ clinics in The Gambia. It was too expensive for PUG to build in at each clinic, and required skilled installers to build and maintain. A simpler “plug and play” system was needed to meet our goals of providing lights to all the clinics. That led to our collaboration with We Care Solar http://www.wecaresolar.org. Founded by Dr. Laura Stachel, an obstetrician working in northern Nigeria, We Care Solar developed a “solar suitcase” specifically for rural clinics without power. Durable, portable, inexpensive, easy to install and maintenance free, these Solar Suitcases allow the clinic staff to have bright lights at night, cell phone charging during the day, and a fetal heart monitor to keep an eye on the health of babies during labor. Thanks to solar power, the staff is no longer helpless in the face of nighttime emergencies.
The We Care Solar Suitcase was specifically chosen for its simplicity and durability. The user friendly units come with simple instructions and require no maintenance beyond the occasional cleaning of panels. Their simple composition of high quality parts guarantees standardized off-grid solar and battery power capable of standing up to the heavy demands of the clinics.By having a standard design, Power Up Gambia can keep spare parts on hand and train Gambian technicians to do most of the necessary repairs.
Working closely with the Gambia Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and with a generous grant from We Care Solar, we teamed up with private individuals, Rotary clubs and student groups to install Solar Suitcases in clinics around The Gambia. With 58 solar suitcases now installed in clinics in and around The Gambia, the impact of widespread access to Solar Suitcases is monumental. Midwives are able to see clearly with bright, durable lights when delivering babies during the night. Doctors and nurses will be able to monitor fetuses in utero. When an emergency referral to a hospital is needed, the nurses have the ability to call for help. For clinics that have never had access to electricity, these suitcases are a complete game changer– and literal life saver.