WHERE IT ALL BEGAN . . .
Twelve years ago, a young American student, Kathryn Hall spent a summer volunteering at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital (now Bwiam General Hospital). At that time, SJGH was seeing over 20,000 patients every year but had to depend on unreliable and expensive diesel generators for power. The cost of fuel was so much that the hospital could only afford to run them for 6 to 8 hours a day – leaving the facility without power even during the busiest of times. Without constant electricity, the hospital couldn’t pump water, keep blood on hand for emergencies, store medications or vaccines properly, run laboratory tests or provide oxygen in life threatening cases.
Working with the hospital administrator, Mr. Kebba Badgie, Kathryn formed Power Up Gambia and committed herself to providing a sustainable renewable energy system for the hospital. In early 2008, she had raised the funds to help the hospital build a solar water pumping station for reliable water supply to the hospital. By 2009, she had raised the funds to build a 12 kW solar power system with battery back up to provide 24 hour power to the critical care areas of the hospital.
That small system made a huge difference. We asked the hospital staff what it changed for them and they were vocal in the impact it had:
“A lab without light is not a lab. Electricity is necessary to run tests. When the lights went out, people whose diseases needed a test to confirm like malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis had to wait to get treatment. Twenty-four hour electricity is also needed to keep the donated blood in the refrigerator cold and usable. The new water system gives us more water, and we no longer have to worry about water when the generator breaks. Our tests require water, and we need it to keep the lab clean. Our new water distiller now has both the water and electricity needed to purify water to run tests.”
Alhajie B Jarju – Lab
“In the surgical ward we use the oxygen concentrator for patients who cannot breathe on their own. We need light to use the oxygen concentrator of the patients must be referred to the main referral hospital in the capital of Banjul. Sometimes the patients cannot afford to go, or sometimes they are too sick to make the journey. With electricity we can save the patients here. Before the solar panels went in, sometimes the generator would break down for one or two weeks, and we wouldn’t have lights. We had to use candles, and it made our job difficult. Now with the solar we always have light. We are much safer and happier now.”
Mari T Gomez – Surgical Ward
“In the freezer we keep drugs like the anti rabies, anti venom, human insulin and vaccines. Other drugs that don’t need to be refrigerated need to be ventilated and kept in a cool dry area. You cannot maintain the medications without electricity to run the refrigerator and air conditioning. The light allows us to keep our expensive and essential drugs in good condition.”
Momodou S. Jallow – Store
“The hospital keeps its records on computers in the record room. The data is essential to the hospital. It allows them to track drug usage. It also allows the hospital to receive help from donors. The data allows people to gauge where help is needed in the hospital and apply for grants. The records also alert us to disease patterns. If we see an unusual number of cases in an area, we can alert people to sensitize the community and stop the outbreak. Without light we couldn’t run the computers and we wouldn’t be able to gather the data.”
Adrissa – Records
Solar Power Expansion in 2018
With this solar power, the medical staff were able to improve patient services. The hospital’s credibility increased, leading to a steady influx of more patients. And as the patient load increased, and the types of health services offered by the hospital increased, so did the need for more energy. Supported in part by a Global Environmental Facilities grant in 2016, grants by the Robertson Family Foundation and the Triskles Foundation and generous support of individual donors in the United States, Power Up Gambia was able to expand the solar power system to a 64kW hybrid solar power system that has connection to the new Gambia electrical grid, solar power generation, and battery backup. The connection to the electrical grid is a “net-metering” connection, providing power to the grid when the hospital solar system has excess power generation and using that “power credit” to offset other electrical costs. This system makes the hospital energy self-sufficient and improves their services by eliminating a major overhead cost for the hospital – the use of costly and highly polluting diesel generators.