At Lagos clinics, solar turns health care around

At Lagos clinics, solar turns health care around

When Mrs. Suliyat Iyabo came to Ita-Elewa Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) to give birth to her second child, she thought she knew the routine. After all, her first child, three-year-old Ruth, had been born at this very same clinic. So Mrs. Iyabo expected she’d have to pay, as usual, for candles or for petrol to run the clinic’s generator.

Instead, the lights were on – and they stayed on through her 3 a.m. delivery. Still, Suliyat was sceptical. “After giving birth, I was expecting the nurse to tell me to bring petrol to replace what was used for me,” she said. But the nurses made no such request. finally, Mrs. Iyabo couldn’t contain her curiosity. “I asked the nurse how come they still have light in their area. She replied, ‘My dear, na solar be this.’”

Until recently, clinics like Ita-Elewa had no choice but to ask patients to chip in to keep the lights and machinery running. That’s why Mrs. Iyabo had to bring petrol for the generator the first time she gave birth. Now, however, Ita-Elewa has a 186kWp solar photovoltaic (PV) installation that ensures the clinic’s main functions get reliable power supply around the clock. The PV system is part of Lagos Solar, an initiative of the Lagos State Government and the UK Department for International Development, which has equipped 11 clinics and 172 public secondary schools in rural and peri-urban parts of Lagos State.

The impact of solar has been unmistakable, not just for patients like Mrs. Iyabo, but also for the clinic’s staff of doctors, nurses, and medical and laboratory technicians. At Ita-Elewa, the nursing matron, Mrs. Maupe Johnson, is still new to the clinic, having been transferred there when the previous matron retired. Her previous clinic did not have the benefit of solar installations, Mrs. Johnson said, and the difference in working conditions was striking.

In the past, she had to make emergency deliveries at night and in the dark because of the unreliable power situation. Not so at Ita-Elewa. “We don’t use the generator anymore,” she said. “The light has not ‘offed.’ It is 24 hours.”

Reliable power changes everything for a clinic like Ita-Elewa, which is the first point of basic medical services for a large population in a 5km radius in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State. The clinic is busier, as news of the improved conditions quickly spread around. Patient numbers are up across clinics where Lagos Solar has set up systems, as people choose them over other facilities. “With solar, people are coming here instead of other clinics,” said Mrs. Johnson. “The work load is too much o!”

But with added work came improved morale, and even colleagues from other sites. “At times, other nurses come even when they are off duty to use the light, and we put them to work,” said Mrs. Johnson. Safety has improved as well. As in many parts of the state, Ita-Elewa used to have problems with “area boys” who would hassle patients and staff on their way to or from the facility. For nurses, coming to work at night could be dangerous. But now, said Mrs. Johnson, “It’s much safer to come to work at the clinic at night, with the lights on.”

Similar improvements are taking root at all of the 11 PHCs that are now equipped with Lagos Solar installations. At Eredo PHC in Epe town, in eastern Lagos State, the pharmacist reported that even the local general hospital has begun stocking some of its medicines in the PHC’s always-running refrigerators. The patient experience has improved dramatically as well. “I no dey fear to go PHC again as I know say fan go blow me for there as I dey wait doctor,” said one patient. “Even doctor sef, fan go blow am so she no go dey vex when e dey ask question.”

“Since solar has been providing us with constant power, we have been able to store test samples and get more accurate results,” added a lab technician at Eredo PHC. “Most importantly, we are happy to see that patients can get all their tests while waiting, without going to external laboratories. This improves morale and we can provide good service.”