The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) collaborated on the Solar for Health (S4H) initiative, which has been extremely beneficial to the National Pharmaceutical Company of Zimbabwe (Natpharm).
By Michael Gwarisa
Since 2017, 1045 out of the 1,600 public health institutions in Zimbabwe that are part of the S4H project—which is financed by The Global Fund—have had solar systems installed.
The solar system makes sure that vital health departments, such maternity, intensive care operating rooms, pharmacy, and laboratories, always have power. In order to maintain suitable storage conditions for medical products, a 201 Kilowatts was also erected at Natpharm Masvingo Medical Warehouse. Most drugs must be kept within specific temperature ranges.
In his evaluation of the Solar for Health project in Masvingo province, Provincial Medical Director (PMD), Dr. Amadeus Shamu said that despite frequent power outages, the Solar for Health Project had significantly improved health services in Masvingo.
The Ministry of Health in conjunction with our partner UNDP has embarked on this Solar for Health project which has seen a lot facilities in the province benefiting from the solar installations which are being done. In Masvingo, we have about 100 facilities which have benefited from this project,” said Dr Shamu.
He added that the continuous solar power has managed to improve cold chain services and storage of medicines in the province.
“You find that a lot of facilities which benefited from this Solar for Health Project are enjoying continuous power supply. This has also improved both hospitals and clinics alike. The services have improved. As you know, if there are power cuts, we have a lot of medicines, vaccines which have to maintain a cold chain. This S4H project has ensured we maintain and store our medicines at required temperatures at any given time.”
Before the solar system was established, the Natpharm Masvingo Branch Manager, Mrs. Linda Chamboko, claimed they used to have power issues. She briefed journalists on the sidelines of a media tour for the S4H project.
“We are benefiting from a partnership between UNDP and the ministry of health through support from the Global Fund for a while, and we have profited from the Solar Project. We used to experience electricity problems because of load shedding before we benefited from the solar plant. When we first started experiencing power problems, we were unable to power our cool rooms and other necessities, according to Mrs. Chamboko.
She continued by saying that the solar system had significantly decreased their electricity costs as well as the expense of running a backup generator system for the cold chain system.”
She added that the solar system has also greatly reduced their electricity bill and costs related to powering an alternative generator system for the cold chain system. The solar system at Natpharm has 640 (380 watt) panels with a generating capacity of 201 kilowatts and 48 volts of battery power.
“We benefited a lot from the solar project because it also helps to cut the cost. We were now relying on generator system when there were power cuts, but now because we have the solar system, we are relying mostly on the solar system. The medicines that we store have temperatures that they are required to be stored at.”
The medicines, including antiretroviral medicines (ARVs), tuberculosis (TB) medicines, and malaria medicines, are required to be stored between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius. This, according to Mrs. Chamboko, has helped them preserve the quality of the medicines. Natapharm has two cold rooms where they store COVID-19 vaccines, maternal and child health medicines like oxytocin, rabies vaccines, anti-snake venoms, and other medicines that they store in their cold rooms.
“With this solar project, we are now able to store our medicines between 2 and 8 degrees without worrying about temperature fluctuations.”
The solar system at NatPharm can run for three to four days solely on solar energy. This, according to Natpharm, has greatly reduced their electricity bill. They also generate excess power from the solar system, which, in some instances, can feed into the national grid.