How Access to Solar Energy Enables Ethiopian Health Workers to Provide Better Care to Patients

At every level of health care, access to power is critical. Whether it’s for light to perform an operation or refrigeration to keep vaccines at the right temperature, energy is necessary to maintain safe practices in life-saving environments.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in four health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to electricity. In Ethiopia, the outlook is worse. According to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health, 72% of the nation’s health facilities—and a staggering 95% of those catering to rural communities—lack access to electricity.

In 2022, Little Sun partnered with We Care Solar to provide five off-grid health facilities in rural Ethiopia with solar electricity to power lighting, mobile communication, small medical devices, and vaccine refrigeration. The project aims to provide a proof of concept for affordable, reliable, and independent plug-n-play solar systems to power health facilities that don’t have access to energy. The project equips five community health centers with a maternal We Care Solar suitcase, Little Sun portable solar-powered phone chargers for healthcare workers, and solar-powered lamps for new mothers. 

To better understand the impact of this project, we spoke with local healthcare workers who were the recipients of these solar resources. Read on to learn their experiences and how the project impacted them so far. 

For some healthcare workers, this is their first time working at a health facility with light

Mesfin* is an EPI and Family Planning Officer at Jinka Hospital, where he’s been working for nearly two years. It’s been his dream to work in healthcare where he can support less fortunate communities. This is his first health post with reliable electricity, and the difference is palpable. 

“There is a huge difference,” Mesfin said. “Now we don’t have to worry if a power outage happens.” 

On top of that, Mesfin no longer needs to use a mobile phone as a light source during critical procedures or births. Vaccines and medicines are also stored in a nearby fridge—something his team historically needed to fetch from a different location. 

“I am able to give the quality health care I always dreamed of because there is a reliable light source and a vaccine fridge,” said Mesfin. 

Now that Mesfin has access to electricity, he is able to perform maternal examinations at any time of day, listen to fetal heartbeats with the help of the solar suitcase’s fetal doppler, safely deliver babies, and easily administer after-birth vaccines to both babies and mothers.

Access to light increases the safety and feasibility of births

For Kofi, who’s worked in the health sector for almost a decade, the We Care Solar suitcases and Little Sun solar lamps have had a massive impact on the feasibility and safety of births. Prior to receiving electricity, Kofi noted how difficult and unsafe it was to perform deliveries or postnatal treatments.

“We used to encounter very high bleeding and it was very hard to manage without light,” Kofi said. “Now it is easy and safe.”

Amara, a midwife at The MCH, agrees that access to energy has upleveled the safety at her hospital where she’s worked for three years. She notes how each procedure is safe and efficient, and complications are avoided.

“We avoid contamination,” Amara said. “The baby is well taken care of because we have light in the postnatal care unit. The newborns get the necessary vaccines in time, too.”

Beyond safety, Amara saves time on important tasks that were otherwise inefficient or painstakingly tedious without proper energy. Deliveries, postnatal care, episiotomies, vaccine administration, and reproductive health education are all tasks she spends less time on now. 

Reliable access to electricity increases the number of patients health clinics are able to see

With improved access to energy, many health clinics have seen an influx of patients. This is due to both an increase in capacity among healthcare workers and more trust from the community. 

At Amara’s health clinic, there’s been a 130% increase in patients since the solar suitcases and lamps were implemented. Before it had energy access, the clinic would only see around two patients per week. Now, there are at least ten patients coming in on a weekly basis. 

“The Little Sun solar light has been a huge motivation for this result,” Amara said. 

Mariam, a midwife at Hado Health Center, has experienced a similar situation at her clinic. She explained how the access to energy created a sense of reliability among the community, which in turn increased trust in healthcare. As a result, the number of patients coming into the clinic has steadily increased—particularly for new mothers.

“The solar suitcase the and the Little Sun solar lamp attracted more mothers to regularly see us during their pregnancy,” Mariam said.

The portable solar lamp provided continuous support outside of the clinic, too—mothers were able to use them when they returned from the health facilities.

Discover how Little Sun supports safe health practices in Ethiopia

Little Sun works with ministries of health and local organizations to make solar-powered mobile phone chargers and lights available to community health workers across sub-Saharan Africa. Learn more about our work or donate now to provide better healthcare in remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa. 

*All names have been changed for privacy purposes.