New Route Publié le 15 mai 2019

Putting smiles on children’s faces and providing energy

A team of men and women experts in craniofacial surgery from Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo travel all over the world to make children born with facial malformations in low-income countries smile again. In the Congolese hospital in Uvira, the team decided that, in addition to working in the operating room, another problem had to be addressed: the constant power cuts in the hospital. So, they summoned various expert corporations that helped them solve the problem by making use of the most precious resource in the Congolese land: the sun.

Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo Onlus is an international association that, for more than twenty years, has been treating children from low-income countries born with malformations on the face, especially with a cleft lip. There are malformations of many different types but a relatively frequent one is cleft lip. In developed countries, it is treated successfully within the first months of life. However, in most developing countries, children do not receive adequate treatment what results in their marginalization and even abandonment. Therefore, putting smiles on these children՚s faces and on their families has become the essence of the organization, which receives the support of many caring experts.

One of the hospitals where the association proves their surgical knowledge is Uvira, a city in the immense and conflictive Democratic Republic of the Congo, agitated by political instability and violence. There, approaching work in an operating room was an especially complex task: in addition to the difficulties that are specific to a country in conflict, doctors had to face continuous power cuts, which could be as frequent as ten interruptions per day. The organization understood that finding a solution to this infrastructural problem was crucial not only for them to do their work, but also for the medical center to be able to serve people from the whole region. The most sensitive areas were the operating rooms, so that they could continue working without interruptions as surgeries cannot be left incomplete, and the neonatal incubators in nurseries, which also require constant power supply.

Electricity generation and storage

In order to solve this problem, the collaborators convened by Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo Onlus designed a hybrid photovoltaic system with battery storage. The proposal was to generate renewable energy that could be stored for later use, when any of the usual power cuts by the public entity SNEL (Société Nationale d’Électricité) took place. In total, the plant lodges 152 photovoltaic modules and 48 batteries for a total storage of 115 kWh.

In July 2017, seven volunteer technicians finished with the installation and, apart from the work that was initially planned, they made some changes in the electrical system that reduced energy use significantly. The result is that, since then, regardless of the problems that might have the usual supply, the entire hospital is guaranteed a few hours of electrical autonomy and, in critical areas (operating rooms and neonatal incubators), this guarantee is extended until the supply is replenished.

But this was not the only action promoted in Uvira. The medical teams, together with the ST Foundation, implemented a computer room with twenty posts with access to the Internet helping the health personnel to improve their technical training.

The results of their collaboration

Almost two years after the equipment was put into work the Uvira Hospital has not experienced any power cuts again. The installed system, which is maintained by the local team, has shown medium or small photovoltaic systems like this cannot solve energy supply problems in sub-Saharan Africa, they can still change the reality of particular places, such as hospitals. All this has been possible thanks to the participation of the local and European personnel, health teams and expert corporations in project development and renewable energies, all convened by Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo Onlus. Prysmian Group was fortunate to be a supporter of this proposal.

For those who live by Western standards, having 2.5kW of constant power supply is a trivial fact. However, it can be a determining factor for uninterrupted work in the Uvira hospital operating room and for incubators in neonatal nurseries. And now, women and men who take care of the citizens in the Congolese region carry out their work without power cuts and without the noise and pollution of power generators. Thanks to these improvements, children who were treated have had their lives improved. And if they smile, we all smile.

Photo: Progetto Sorriso nel Mondo Onlus