This week marks the end of cohort two training for biomedical engineers from Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kisumu, Samburu, Siaya and Tana River. The biomedical engineers learned how to design, size, install, and maintain solar photovoltaic systems. They also attended classes on workplace issues revolving around design thinking, business communication skills, mental health, and professional documentation. The training, which spans four cohorts, aims to provide a sustainable solution to hospitals in the most vulnerable counties, and to support ongoing Covid-19 efforts in the healthcare sector.
Electricity plays a critical role in the delivery of patient services including vaccination, which requires refrigeration. In the absence of electricity, these services grind to a halt and can lead to an increased risk of patient death. Unreliable electricity also slows down the modernization of healthcare services thus adversely affecting vulnerable populations in rural areas. Frequent down-times reduce equipment dependability and lack of equipment disincentivizes medical professionals from working in rural areas.
“In the dispensaries, we are faced with challenges of paying electricity bills. The allocated amount sometimes doubles, and this then becomes a challenge. I have seen that the use of solar energy will help us a lot in the sub-county,” says Roslyn Chepkemoi, Biomedical Engineer, Bomet Central sub-county. Reliable power remains a critical issue in sub-Saharan Africa as shown by a systematic review done in 2013 in 14 countries which found that only 34 percent of grid-connected hospitals had reliable electricity. Further, around 41 percent of healthcare facilities do not have access to electricity and 70 percent of medical devices in Africa cannot be used due to lack of good and stable quality of power. Taking this into account, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic calls for a renewed focus on electrification of rural healthcare facilities with no grid connection and the provision of better backup to those without reliable electricity. Both can be achieved using off-grid technologies such as solar photovoltaic systems.
Properly installed, operated, and maintained solar photovoltaic systems with batteries are reliable and cost-competitive compared to alternatives such as fuel gen-sets when properly installed, operated, and maintained. When financed upfront, they require a high initial capital expenditure which can be unattainable for health-care facilities. However, the availability of financing is improving, and knowledgeable individuals can assist hospitals assess the options they have. These are some of the issues covered in the training.
“In addition, I learnt that the user should be empowered on how to use the system. This will assist the user to avoid system overload. Further, I also realized that the use of LEDs and CFLs instead of normal bulbs is more efficient in the long run.” added Roselyn.
The project runs from June 2020 to January 2022 but the courses, which began in late November 2020, will run until April 2021, with the extra time being used for follow-ups and impact assessment. By the end of the course, Strathmore Energy Research Center will have trained 60 biomedical engineers from 30 counties. These are: Busia, TransNzoia, Vihiga, Kericho, Elgeyo Marakwet, Bomet, Bungoma, Taita Taveta, Nyamira, Kwale, Baringo, West Pokot, Tharaka Nithi, Narok, Nyandarua, Migori, Homa Bay, Laikipia, Kilifi, Kajiado, Marsabit, Kitui, Murang’a, Tana River, Isiolo, Lamu, Kirinyaga, Samburu, Makueni and Kakamega.
This project is funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and is led by Ms Anne Wacera Wambugu. The article was written by Ms Anne Njeri Njoroge, the Communications Officer at Strathmore Energy Research Centre. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.