Solar Powers Quality Health Services in Zimbabwe

Sep 5, 2017

The 40 kilowatt Solar Power System installed at the Chitsongo Mission Hospital. Photo/UNDP

Describing the challenges of managing a public hospital in Zimbabwe, Dr Edward Chidziva, the medical superintendent at Chitsongo Mission Hospital, cites insufficient resources, erratic power supply and huge electricity bills. “Currently we owe the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority a debt of USD45000,” he quips.

However, with the installation of a 40 kilowatt solar power system at the health facility, the hospital can “breathe a huge sigh of relief,” relates Dr Chidziva. “The savings from energy bills will go towards providing other critical services like buying essential medicines and maintenance of hospital equipment.”

The 65-bed capacity institution is the largest medical facility in Mbire district, catering for about 85,640 people in the area which straddles the vast Zambezi Valley. “This is a very hot region and prone to flooding during the rainy season which damages electricity cables leading to power outages which can last for three to four months, severely undermining our ability to provide efficient medical services to the population,” he says.

The solar system was officially commissioned on 25 August, 2017 as part of the Solar for Health Initiative, facilitated by UNDP with funding from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The development is part of the first phase of a one year (2016-2017), USD 11 million Solar for Health Initiative of UNDP/Global Fund, targeting 388 health centres nation-wide.

With the aim of improving access to quality health services and contributing to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the Solar for Health Initiative is implemented by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and Nation Housing.

The installation of the solar power at Chitsongo hospital heralds a major milestone at the health facility. It is capable of powering the entire hospital during the day and has a back-up capacity of 18 kilowatts to power selected critical facilities like the theatre, maternity and mortuary wards at night, explains Mr Batsirai Katsidzira, an engineer with Wilbrand Enterprises, a local firm that worked with W. Giertsen Energy Solutions of Germany to install the solar power system. “We have used 144 panels with a 25-year warranty as well as batteries that have a lifespan of 10 years and are maintenance-free,” he stressed.

 “As a pilot programme, this is very successful because it will go a long way in sustaining the hospital” observed Mr Weswell Chiruvi, an official with the head office, Ministry of Health and Child Care. “We are grateful to our development partners like UNDP and Global Fund for this development which has great impact in provision of efficient medical services across the country”.

UNDP’s Solar for Health initiative supports governments to increase access to quality health services through the installation of solar energy photo-voltaic systems (PV), ensuring constant and cost-effective access to electricity, while also mitigating the impact of climate change and advancing multiple Sustainable Development Goals.

Solar for Health can make a significant contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ by reaching remote and under-served communities. Specifically, it can help countries in their efforts to achieve SDGs 3, 7, 13 and 17: good health and well-being, affordable and clean energy, climate action and partnerships.

Broader development benefits include the creation of green jobs and the development of local manufacturing and markets for solar power. By training women as solar technicians to install and maintain solar panels, the initiative can also help countries advance SDG 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.