Govt In Talks On Powering Hospitals With Solar Energy

GOVERNMENT says it is in discussions with potential investors to ensure that Zimbabwe’s hospitals are solar powered.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

Incessant power cuts stretching 18 hours a day have crippled operations not only in the manufacturing sector but the health sector as well.

Energy and Power Development Minister Honorable Fortune Chasi in an interview with HealthTimes in acknowledgement said they are seized with this crisis in this health sector.

“There are problems with the hospitals and particularly also with mortuaries. We have brought attention today on what needs to be done in that sector particularly when we look at hospitals, they have people desperate for their lives.

“We try as much as possible to circumvent them when we load shed. Sometimes that is not technically possible but going forward, we would like to have solar on hospitals and we currently discussing a number of proposals with possible investors. We hope that we will make progress around that and that we can resolve the issue,” he said.

On the issue of the pharmaceutical sector also being affected by the power cuts, the Minister said pharmaceutical wholesalers are not in a class of their own.

“That is a problem affecting all businesses. The solutions that we are supposed to proffer are supposed to deal with every problem.

“But you will understand there are certain critical institutions that we must enable from a power point of view,” the Energy Minister said.

The Energy Minister urged the pharmaceutical industry to relay their concerns to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA).

“Some of them should be able to relate to ZESA their particular challenge and they will find that ZESA will look at all the options. It will also be possible for arrangements to be made for them where this is technically and practically feasible. It’s not always feasible for them to be supplied with power,” he said.

However players in the pharmaceutical wholesale industry claim the situation has gone worse.

“Zesa cost has gone up 10 times due to the new tariff. We still have power outages for 60 percent of the time on average and need to run on generator for the cold rooms,” said a player who requested anonymity.

Pharmaceutical Wholesalers of Zimbabwe president Mr Kudakwashe Chapfika once noted that capacity utilisation for local pharmaceutical industry has further dwindled due to increased power cuts.
“The cost of operating using alternatives such as generators is high and less friendly due to shortage and price increase of diesel as well. The power cuts have caused the industry to operate on a 3 day working week , with reduced product availability,” he said.

He added that some essential medicines are being affected.

“Some of the products like vaccines and insulin require continous cold storage at 2-8 degrees Celsius , so both Wholesalers and Retailers have scaled down on storage of these medicines , prompting serious shortages on the market,” said Mr Chapfika.

Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) president Mr Portiphar Mwendera said power cuts have increased pharmaceutical industry running costs.

“The local running costs have also been quite significant and this has increased in the last three months because of the power issues. Increasing running costs in the form of back up installations and operations due to daily power cuts. Those in industry will tell you they have plants or warehouses which have air handling units which have to be running continuously without ceasing,” he said.

With the weekly increase of fuel prices, wholesalers Mr Mwendera said the sector is pumping out money for 300 litres worth of fuel every two to three days.

“And for that to happen they need diesel maybe 200-300 litres every three days. Diesel is not easily available but they have to have that in their standby generator so that it runs for 18 hours when ZESA is not available,” he said.

He also said they incinerated some critical medicines recently which were lost to poor cold chain management.

“We have also significantly lost cold chain items due to power cuts. We had to incinerate a batch of insulin which unfortunately the cold chain was broken at the facility because they didn’t have power. The guys didn’t understand why they needed a standbye facility, coldroom facility for this particular consignment. They just took it like anything else but to us that is essential medicines,” said Mr Mwendera.

Meanwhile, development partners, non governmental organisations and corporates have responded to the call to mitigate the power crisis. We Care Solar, a California-based NGO, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are working with the government to install solar power systems in clinics and hospitals nationwide.

We Care Solar has struck a partnership with local NGO ZimEnergy Eco Foundation, providing compact rugged solar electric systems called solar suitcases.

Designed in 2010, these “suitcases” provide bright lights and foetal heart monitoring.

More than 4,000 health centres in Africa and Asia have been equipped with this technology.

Since 2016, We Care Solar has supported 136 maternal health facilities with reliable lighting and electricity in Zimbabwe, in the provinces of Matabeleland South, Mashonaland East and Masvingo, and aims to extend its project to other clinics across the country.

UNDP also partnered with the health ministry on a Solar For Health Project and installed solar systems at 405 institutions across the country to ensure uninterrupted power, including at maternity wards.

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