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Solar power changes how healthcare is delivered in Africa

A special project addressing maternal, newborn and child mortality is improving healthcare in rural Ethiopia

By Semereta Sewasew, communications manager, Ethiopia

Ashewa Lutte Health Centre never had electricity, and its staff struggled to deliver quality healthcare. Sadly, that scenario was far too common in rural Ethiopia.

That changed when Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) introduced solar power at health centres in rural Ethiopia. “[Now we] have adequate power for refrigerators, sterilization facilities, computers and other laboratory equipment,” explains Firew Abay, head nurse of the health centre, noting the update is improving services such as labour and delivery.

This comes as Ethiopia continues to face high maternal mortality rates, with 353 deaths per 100,000 births, according to the recent World Bank statistics. And, although the government is expanding health centres, many facilities don’t have medical tools, medicines and laboratories and aren’t adequately staffed with skilled professionals. Like the Ashewa Health Centre, many similar facilities in rural areas are far from power lines and some don’t have electricity.

Thanks to funding from the Government of Canada, CCFC, through the Canada-Africa Initiative to Address Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality (CAIA-MNCM), invested in solar electricity at five health centres. Today, many expectant mothers in the project area access emergency labour, delivery and other care at night. This was unthinkable in the past.

Solar power is also improving the clinic’s immunization program — one of the most cost-efficient and effective health interventions for saving babies and children from preventable diseases.

“Because we did not have adequate power for refrigerating vaccines, we couldn’t reach as many children as we would have liked,” explains Firew, talking about the impact the CAIA-MNCM project had at the Ashewa Health Centre. “We couldn’t sterilize our medical equipment. There were even times when we assisted in the delivery of babies using flashlights [when labour that began in the day ended in the night]. Solar energy has made tremendous improvements in our health centre.”

Now more women can get the help they need — women like Fatuma (pictured). “I was in the maternity waiting room when I started going into labour at night. Since the health centre was functional, I had no problem,” says the new mother of a two-month-old healthy baby boy.

Help support new moms in rural Ethiopian get the care they deserve. Learn how.

Check back for more success stories about CAIA-MNCM, which runs until 2020.

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More about the project:

The Canada-Africa Initiative to Address Maternal, Newborn and Child Mortality is a partnership among four Canadian organizations — Amref Health Africa, Christian Children’s Fund of Canada, Centre for Global Child Health at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and WaterAid Canada. With support of $24.9 million from the Government of Canada (85 percent of the total project budget), this four-year project (2016 to 2020) aims to directly reach 1.7-million women, children and men across 20 districts in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania. The partners are working together with African communities to improve the delivery of essential health services to moms, pregnant women, newborns and children under the age of five; increase the use of these improved health services; and improve the consumption of nutritious foods and supplements.

More about Christian Children’s Fund of Canada:

Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) is a child-centred international development organization and a member of ChildFund Alliance. For nearly 60 years, CCFC has worked with children, communities, donors and other partners — changing lives through improved health, education and clean water. CCFC works in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas, to support more than 700,000 children, youth and community members.