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Solar-Powered Mobile Clinics to Boost Rural Healthcare in Africa

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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.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: August 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Model Indian Villages to Keep Rural Relevant

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The world’s rush to urban centres is the great challenge of the 21st century. In 2007, the world became a majority urban place. The consequences of this shift can be seen in the blight of urban poverty, with its slums and squalor, environmental degradation, and rising social tensions. But there are people working on keeping rural areas relevant and pleasant places to live. These rural advocates see a vibrant countryside as part of the solution to the world’s plethora of crises.

In India, a pioneering initiative is reviving impoverished rural villages. Drawing on self-organizing methods used in India since 1200 BC, the Model Village India (www.modelvillageindia.org.in) is based around India’s democratic system of Panchayats: a village assembly of people stemming back to pre-colonial times.

“Decentralizing is necessary if development is to reach the grassroots,” said the concept’s founder, Rangeswamy Elango, a head of the village of Kuthampakkam, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the bustling city of Chennai, and one of the 12,600 Panchayats in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

While all villages have the ability to use the Panchayat system to improve their lives, few are making the most of this system. The model villages are about showing other villages the true power they have at their disposal. And that with a plan and determination, they can increase their income and improve their quality of life, attracting more money from government and other sources to do so.

The concept has now expanded to 30 model villages. At its core it is about being positive, eschewing griping about problems and instead getting down to work to solve them.

“We demonstrate the basic infrastructure, sustainable housing, food security,” said Elango. “If the government is not bothering, maybe through the local people’s efforts, we can try to demonstrate a variety of development models.”

As India’s economy has boomed, its small towns and villages have withered. Home to the majority of the country’s population, they are in crisis, with declining populations and high suicide rates. India’s urban slums are where people are going – they are growing 250 percent faster than the country’s population. India is a country in danger of neither having a viable rural economy, nor viable cities, but just vast tracts of slums.

Originally left out of the first draft of India’s constitution, Panchayats became legitimized in 1992. They are now elected in every one of the 260,000 villages in India. If they use them, the local Panchayats have extensive powers to transform the destiny of a village, with control of budgets, and decision-making power on how services are to be delivered. This ranges from the provision of clean water, to burying the dead and building roads. The trick is in getting people to realize the power they wield over their destiny and how it can transform their economic situation.

“The village-level local governments are constitutionally important bodies,” said Elango, “but the way it is implemented is not good. The system is unable to deliver the goods to the people.”

The model village approach has revived once-declining villages plagued with high unemployment, chronic alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. The residents are involved in the building of new and healthier homes, providing clean drinking water, waste facilities, education services – including an academy dedicated to teaching the skills and lessons leaned by the villagers to other villages – and even trying to break down the barriers between people because of India’s caste social hierarchy.

“Instead of having a big college, this is a practical people’s model,” Elango said. “It is not done by an academic but by a layman. The learning is spontaneous and emotional.”

Elango is driven by making his village a model that works, and in turn, becoming a magnet for others wishing to improve their lives and their villages.

Elango’s village was not able to support itself with its two crop harvests a year and the villagers resorted to illegal alcohol production instead to make a living. Despite being well connected by highway with nearby Chennai, the village was socially and economically dying.

Like a spreading ink spot, the concept is to create a network of like-minded villages that act as self-reinforcing positive role models, spreading the prosperity and stability outwards. The “Network Growth Economy Model” is a direct challenge to the “special economic zones that benefit only capitalist owners,” said Elango.

Ambitious, Elango is hoping to draw in 2,000 villages over the next 10 years, until a tipping point is reached, and the model explodes across India.

A native of the village, Elango became saddened by the community’s decline, including widespread domestic violence against women. The booming city of Chennai’s prosperity had not rippled out to the village, and it was still lacking good infrastructure and sanitation. A trained chemical engineer, he was elected the President of the Kuthambakkam Panchayat in 1996, and set about using his engineer’s perspective to draft the village’s five-year plan from 1996 to 2001.

But the budget was tight. And he had to turn to innovative solutions: recycling building materials, conserving water and reducing electricity consumption. But the resourcefulness paid off, and the state of Tamil Nadu provided the money to upgrade roads, drains, build a community centre, child care facilities, 200 low cost toilets, and work sheds for the village’s industries. By the end of 2001, most basic needs were being met. He then turned to providing good quality housing for the villagers still living in thatch huts.

He has used the “Network Growth Economy Model” to tackle the unemployment and low incomes. It works like this: rather than buying food and other products from outside the village, the villages band together to establish industries to provide those products to each other. This creates jobs and increases income by keeping the wealth within the network of villages, rather than it benefiting far-away companies. The new businesses include Thoor dhal processing, dairies, soap making, bakeries, ground nut oil production, and leather making.

“India was strong when this model was in place – we had strong villages,” said Elango. “Globalization’s trickle down is not working for India.”

Resources

  • Unleashing India’s Innovation: Toward Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, a report by the World Bank. Website: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/0,,contentMDK:21490203~pagePK:146736~piPK:146830~theSitePK:223547,00.html
  • NextBillion.net: Hosted by the World Resources Institute, it identifies sustainable business models that address the needs of the world’s poorest citizens. Website:http://www.wri.org
  • CIDEM and Ecosur specialise in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website: http://www.ecosur.org

Sponsored by BSHF. BSHF is now called World Habitat and it aims to seek out and share the best solutions to housing problems from around the world.

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