Solar-Powered Mobile Clinics to Boost Rural Healthcare in Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Around the world, innovative thinking is finding new ways of using solar power technology to bring electricity to underserved areas of the global South. Innovators are experimenting with new technologies, new business models and new ways to finance getting solar power into the hands of the poor.

One recently launched new solution is a solar-powered mobile health clinic that is bringing 21st-century medical diagnostic services to rural areas.

The US $250,000 Solar Powered Health Centre has been built by the Korean technology company Samsung (http://www.samsung.com/africa_en/news/localnews/2013/samsung-launches-solar-powered-health-centre-model-to-bring-quality-healthcare-to-rural-areas).

A truck packed with medical equipment that draws electricity from solar panels, it is traveling to rural, underserved parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The truck is seven metres in length and comes packed with medical goodies, including a fully equipped eye and blood clinic and a dental surgery. It hopes to make it easier to reach the six in 10 residents of sub-Saharan Africa who live in rural areas, and who are often very far from affordable medical services. There is a blood analyzer, spectacle repair kit, and a non-contact tonometry test to measure the inside of a person’s eye. People can also be tested for HIV, malaria and many other conditions.

Samsung (samsung.com) developed the truck as part of its efforts to create “Built for Africa” technologies. The truck was built in Johannesburg, South Africa, helping create local jobs and skills.

Samsung hopes to scale the initiative to a million people in Africa by 2015.

The clinics were launched in Cape Town at the 2013 Samsung Africa Forum and are being rolled out by Samsung Electronics Africa (http://www.samsung.com/africa_en/#latest-home) as part of what the company calls a “large-scale medical initiative on the continent”.

The roaming trucks will be staffed by qualified medical professionals and will educate people about the importance of preventive medical screening.

Targeted conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure, tooth decay and cataracts. The clinics will also conduct public health education campaigns about the importance of preventive medicine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preventive_medicine).

“What many see as minor health issues will not only get worse over time, but will affect other aspects of quality of life. The child that cannot see properly cannot learn properly,” said Dr. Mandlalele Mhinga, a member of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (http://nelsonmandelachildrenshospital.org/). “Mobile solutions help address this issue by making medical services accessible to more people in rural areas, and educating them about health care at the same time.”

The mobile clinics hope to reduce the vast difference between the quality of health care available to rural residents and people in urban areas.

Even in countries such as South Africa with the highest level of development in the region, medical care coverage is patchy and unreliable. For those who can afford it, 20 per cent of the population, there are private medical schemes. But everyone else must rely on an over-stretched and under-funded public health sector.

Samsung has based this innovation on its first-hand experience with providing medical services to rural areas in Africa.

“This experience has shown us how desperately medical treatment is needed across the continent, and inspired us to develop a sustainable and innovative solution to reach the people who need it most,” said Ntutule Tshenye, Business-to-Government and Corporate Citizenship Lead for Samsung Africa. “While our CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy in Africa is largely focused on education, our efforts to enrich lives will not be felt if people’s basic needs, such as access to healthcare, are not met.”

Samsung’s “Built for Africa” product range (http://www.samsung.com/africa_en/africancitizenship/home4.html) also has a wide range of other projects and initiatives to boost health and living standards on the continent. These include education programmes, such as the Samsung Electronics Engineering Academy, Samsung Solar Powered Internet Schools, the Samsung Power Generator, and the Samsung eLearning Centres.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. is a consumer electronics multinational and employs 227,000 people worldwide.

Resources

1) Solar Powered Hearing Aid: “The Solar Ear is an innovative design for a hearing aid that is both low in cost and eco friendly. By using solar power technology and cost effective manufacturing, it aims to bring sound to the millions globally who are deaf”. Website: http://www.envirogadget.com/solar-powered/solar-powered-hearing-aid/

2) Solar-Powered Blood Pressure Device Enables Off-Grid Medical Aid: Researchers have developed a new solar-powered device that will allow doctors to measure blood pressure and dispense critical medical aid in developing countries around the world. Website: http://inhabitat.com/solar-powered-blood-pressure-device-enables-off-grid-medical-aid/

3) The Solarclave, a Solar-Powered Medical Instrument Sterilizer: The Solarclave is made from repurposed parts and is a reflective satellite TV dish focusing sunlight onto a modified wine bottle above it. “The sunlight heats water in the bottle and forces steam into a pressure cooker below. In field tests in Nicaragua, the Solarclave can reach the CDC-recommended heat and pressure levels—250 F at 15 psi—in an hour”. Website: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/med-tech/7-medical-upgrades-for-developing-countries-6#slide-6

Solar Sister: Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. Website: http://www.solarsister.org/

SOL – Solar Powered Laptop: The world’s first fully solar-powered laptop. Calling itself the “All-Terrain Off-Road Sport Utility Laptop”, it is made by a Canadian company. Website: http://www.solaptop.com/

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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