A new initiative is birthed by Smile Train in collaboration with KidsOR. The organizations have pioneered efforts in the establishment of solar powered pediatric theatres across several health facilities. While emphasizing that this is a complete game changer in the healthcare delivery system, the Vice President and Regional Director for West Africa at Smile Train, Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi, also said there is need for the political will to be galvanized to advance this laudable initiative. She spoke in this exclusive interview with News Headquarter’s Editor-in-Chief LUBEM GENA.
Why is this initiative embarked upon and how sustainable is it?
Power outages and power surges are critical infrastructure deficits in many Low and Medium Income Countries (LMICs). Hospitals are not spared as many have to source for alternate power supply to stay functional. Main power grids in many parts of Africa are producing below capacity, yet, we have in abundance sunlight generating solar energy than most continents. As we know generators rely on fossil fuels which impacts on our planet, contributing to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
Diesel and petrol prices are skyrocketing. As the world continues to battle climate change and find more cost-efficient ways of maintaining running costs, it becomes imperative to innovate as we strive to improve surgical systems. Surgery, as practiced today is major propellant of climate change.
Recent studies have shown that operating rooms account for 20-33% of hospital waste and can be three-six times more energy-intensive than hospitals as whole. Operating rooms are responsible for significant portion of GHG emissions, waste production and energy expenditure. In collaboration with our partners KidsOR, a feasibility study was carried out in Dundee- Scotland that showed that daily consumption of medical equipment in the theatre is estimated at 5KWh. The solar-powered theatres would last up to 6 hours after charging, saving each theater about 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide each year. Going green with our pediatric theatres is a win-win for the environment and in saving lives.
How would you rate the acceptance of the health community or and governments of such countries, to this initiative?
The feedback received so far from our partners including governments have been overwhelming. Everyone is eager to move this needle. The solar surgery system is indeed a game changer, long-awaited solution in strengthening surgery systems and ultimately our healthcare delivery system. We are optimistic that the local political goodwill and international policies would keep us proactive, adaptive, resourceful and accountable, to ensure scalability and sustainability in the long run. Development and socio-economic growth are based on a healthy nation.
Are you willing to extend this across all the facilities you are carrying out cleft and palate treatment?
Yes, it is our greatest desire within available resources.
On the average, how much does it cost to put up a single solar system in a theatre?
It may be difficult to say the exact cost right now without transport and installation. There will be economies of scale. In our humble estimation, the price of the solar equipment may be relatively reasonable and may allow us to facilitate installations at a number of facilities. At the moment, we are working out the entire cost factoring in the production of the equipment, shipment and installation.
Is there going to be a counter-part funding of this initiative by your partners bearing in mind that this could be an expensive venture?
Integrated policymaking capacity is needed to drive the sustainability of this initiative. Today at Smile Train, we have built strong relationship with a good number of governments for policy engagement, mobilizing resource in funding, workforce and infrastructure development, research and innovation with the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with their Ministries of Health.
Often, governments want to see proof of concept to believe that it works. We are hopeful that policy makers and their advisors will be able to weigh the evidence and identify the ‘triple-win’ solutions. We are also calling on more implementing partners to join in the revolution.
What are the challenges encountered in putting in place this system and how exactly are you prepared to confronting such?
Supply chain logistics and high inflation are glaring. But we are hopeful that these are surmountable over time.