Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sun powers healthier lives

By Ponlok Leng

Chanthev and her family are pictured at their home in
 Taveng village in Ratanakiri province.
©UNICEF Cambodia/ 2017/Ponlok Leng

Ratanakiri province, Cambodia, August 2017 – A solar power scheme is bringing light into the lives of marginalized people dependent on a remote health centre for their health care.

Taveng Health Centre is situated 45km from Ratanakiri province’s capital of Banlung and to reach it many have to undertake an arduous motorcycle ride that can take up to two hours in one of Cambodia’s least developed provinces with limited transport infrastructure.


This trip is even more challenging in the rainy season as not all roads are sealed and conditions become more difficult when excessive rainfall makes loose gravel stretches of the route hazardous.

After having made this difficult journey, those seeking medical care quite often had to endure consultations in poorly lit conditions as the clinic was without an adequate power supply for its daily operations.

A reliance on local energy infrastructure can be problematic for an important medical facility and the use of diesel-powered generators is not a solution as this fuel is relatively expensive and needs to be brought in, thereby increasing operating costs.

This poor lighting situation was a major concern for health centre staff when delivering babies or administering out-of-hours treatment at night.

To counter this problem, UNICEF supplied the Taveng Health Centre with a set of solar power panels to provide natural energy and illuminate the clinic well into the night.

An additional benefit of this clean energy approach is lower operating costs – and as a tropical country Cambodia is in a perfect position to harness the power of the sun to power remote community facilities.

Cambodia is a country blessed with hours of sunlight on a daily basis. On clear days, solar panels often start producing power as early as six in the morning in Cambodia, compared to eight or nine in Western countries.

Consequently, the solar panel scheme has been scaled up and since November 2016 UNICEF has supported the installation of solar panels at 18 clinics and operational district offices in the north-eastern provinces of Preah Vihear, Stung Treng, Kratie, Mundulkiri, as well as elsewhere in Ratanakiri.

The first mother to give birth in Taveng Health Centre after the solar lighting system was installed is Bloeng Chanthev, a 28 year-old from the Brao ethnic community.

Chanthev is a rice farmer who gave birth to her fourth child in January at 3 in the morning in the company of her husband Tan Sin, 33. She said the provision of a well-lit clinic enabled medical staff to work without hindrance.

“Five years ago, my daughter was born at the health centre. It was a hard period back then because the centre had no electricity.”

“Midwives had to use a battery for a light for their work of child delivery. After the delivery, the midwives used candles to help care for my baby.

“With not enough light, it was challenging for both the delivery and care after the birth. This time, I felt much better and with good confidence in the quality of health centre services during the night time.”

Her husband Tan Sin said he is also happy to see the clinic equipped with solar power.

He said: “I hope that more women in my village will use more health services, especially child deliveries at health centres. Taveng Health Centre provides quality services, and has polite medical staff –additionally, enough electricity for its daily operations!”

Although the power issue has been resolved, staffing was an area that required attention. The health centre has nine personnel but their overall service delivery was hampered by a lack of child birth specialists, particularly a secondary midwife to administer safe births for local women, the majority of whom come from the Brao ethnic group.

However, following a request from the health centre’s chief, UNICEF financially supported the provision of a secondary midwife who now provides coaching to upgrade the competence of primary midwives. This has seen a marked improvement in the delivery of peri-natal services for mother and child pre- and post-birth.

Ms. Chhoeung Theany, the secondary midwife who was transferred to Taveng Health Centre to help build the capacity of local staff, said the facility is providing improved services and has focused appropriately on the wellbeing of mothers and children.

Secondary midwife ChhoeungTheany provides integrated postpartum care
 for a mother and her newborn at Taveng Health Centre in Ratanakiri province.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Ponlok Leng

“Currently, there is a noticeable increase in child deliveries at the centre and with enough electricity supply and the use of a clean water system. As a midwife, I am very pleased to see this,” she said.

From January to March 2016, a total of 36 babies were delivered at the clinic and in the same months at the start of this year, 40 were delivered.

The increased use of this facility shows there is light at the end of the tunnel in the drive to encourage more pregnant women to choose safe medical facilities over traditional home-based birthing practices which pose a significant risk to both mother and child.

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