February 7, 2017 Philadelphia, PA When Power Up Gambia first began installing solar suitcases in The Gambia, West Africa, their mission seemed impossible. At a cost of $2500.00 per solar suitcase and reliant solely on charitable donations, the idea of raising enough funds for 58 health care installations in The Gambia was at first a pipedream.
The Gambia is one of the smallest and poorest countries in Africa. It recently received national attention when the Gambians witnessed a peaceful transition of power in their country after President Yahya Jammeh stepped aside after 22 years of military rule in favor democratically elected President Adama Barrow. The country is still struggling economically which has led to a healthcare crisis.
With only 11 physicians per 100,000 people (compared to the U.S. rate of 309 physicians per 100,000 people), the Gambia has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. The lack of reliable electricity in most rural healthcare clinics meant wards were lit by candlelight or flashlight, many clinics were closed at night, treatment for women in labor was delayed, nurses and midwives were frustrated and often felt hopeless.
The use of solar suitcases has been instrumental in saving patient’s lives in the Gambia. Where infants and mothers were previously unable to be treated at night, a solar suitcase contains all the tools needed to effectively light up a rural health care installation. Each suitcase comes equipped with solar panels, lights, a cell phone charger and a fetal heart monitor to keep an eye on the health of babies during deliveries. With solar power, the staff is no longer helpless in the face of nighttime emergencies. Solar suitcases are durable, portable, inexpensive, easy to install and maintenance free.
According the Lynn McConville, executive director of Power Up Gambia, “we started with one solar suitcase three years ago, testing it in a rural clinic where a Peace Corp volunteer was working. It was so successful, we knew we needed to bring them to more clinics. Nurses and midwives who used to struggle at night holding flashlights in their mouths during difficult deliveries just praised the bright lights and fetal monitors that come with these solar units.”
Working with the Gambia Ministry of Health and We Care Solar, Power Up Gambia with the support of Moorestown Rotary, the Triskeles Foundation and individual donors has now installed 58 solar suitcases, one for every rural health care clinic in the Gambia. This has resulted in decreased energy costs, an increase in successful patient outcomes and a significant boost in the moral of the rural nurses and midwives who staff these clinics.
PUG’s next mission is to install a large scale photovoltaic installation at the local hospital in Bwiam. The hospital has currently outgrown its current installation which was originally installed by PUG in 2006. Since then, the patient load grew from 20,000 patients a year to over 40,000. PUG is now working to install a 55 kw solar panel project at Sulayman Junkung Hospital and eventually expand its model to three other hospitals in the Gambia.
Power Up Gambia is a 501(c)(3) incorporated in Philadelphia whose mission is to provide power and water to health facilities in The Gambia through the use of solar energy. For more information, please visit their website at www.powerupgambia.org. or contact Dee Bertino
firstname.lastname@example.org (609) 670-1331.