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Where there is light, there is hope - how solar power can provide improved healthcare

  •  January 07, 2016
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At the AIDF Africa Summit 2016, NRS International will be participating in a conference panel session on Improving the Lives of Displaced People (3 February, 2.20pm). In this article we explore how solar power can provide IDPs and people living off-the-grid safe access to energy and light, and improved healthcare.

Where there is light, there is hope, and that is exactly what the 60 million forcibly displaced people around the world need to build a brighter future. But implementing lighting interventions in humanitarian settings is not straightforward. The current refugee crisis is the worst since the end of the Second World War, and providing access to (solar) light and energy during such emergencies can make a significant contribution to improving the lives of those most in need.

Access to light a top priority

Access to safe solar lights and electricity are essential building blocks once basic necessities such as shelter, water and food have been provided. These blocks not only provide hope and light, but more importantly, empower people of concern to continue income-generating and educational activities at night, as well as provide protection and remove highly toxic and dangerous kerosene from the shelters. According to the UN Refugee Agency, displaced people from all over the world consistently report access to light as a top priority at the household and community level.

Beneficiary-driven and fit-for-purpose design

NRS International specialises in the development, production and supply of humanitarian relief products, and our subsidiary Flexiway Solar Solutions is an expert in fit-for-purpose and cost-effective energy and solar solutions. Because we work closely with international aid agencies and field experts, we believe in beneficiary-driven design to meet the exceptional quality standards required to withstand the often harsh environments in camps and emergency settings. These tough conditions also ask for reliable, durable, strong and efficient solar products. In other words: fit-for-purpose. So our engineers created solar solutions that show outstanding performance results in all types of extreme weather and living conditions.

Average stay in refugee camp 17 years

Around the world, people unfamiliar with the challenges faced by refugees routinely guess that the average time spent in a refugee camp is somewhere between six months and two years. The reality is very different, with the average stay in a refugee camp being nearer to 17 years. This is a powerful argument supporting the idea of high quality, reliable products that last for years.

Solar shelter solutions

Reliable also means that even on cloudy days a beneficiary can trust the run-time of sun-powered products, such as specifically designed shelter pico systems, mobile phone chargers, radios and streetlights. Our products are designed in such a way that they will not deplete when charged on a regular basis, come rain or shine. This ensures beneficiaries do not have to turn to traditional energy sources such as dangerous kerosene lights or even charcoal, and can avoid health problems.

Innovation in action

Flexiway Solar Solutions continually innovates in collaboration with a wide spectrum of stakeholders in order to develop and deliver solar solutions actually required by displaced and off-the-grid communities.

We are proud to have built strategic partnerships with the public sector, NGOs and academia in order to jointly develop new products that are beneficial to the humanitarian aid sector. Through these critical partnerships, we cultivate a corporate culture of innovation, learning, evaluation and creativity and we can better serve clients and beneficiaries across the globe. Two recent examples of our innovation provide a clear demonstration of this approach in action.

Shelter Socket

In November 2015, we announced a partnership with IFRC – Shelter Research Unit and PRACTICA Foundation to further develop a solar-powered Shelter Socket. The joint aim is to develop a pioneering solar power outlet that can be installed in any tent structure. This innovation will transform the lives of refugees and internally displaced people, improving connectivity and providing access to much-needed light and energy.

Research showed a clear demand within refugee communities for a solar product that is integrated, waterproof and theft proof, and in a first for the industry, the Shelter Socket will be designed to fully meet the very specific needs of these populations. It will comprise a solar panel that can be fixed to the outside of any tent, linked by a waterproof connection to an internal USB power outlet. The energy generated by the solar panel can be used to charge small USB powered electronic devices such as lights, torches, radios and mobile phones.

The design has been made to be as simple, neutral, cost-effective, durable and ergonomic as possible. The Shelter Socket is in essence nothing more than a wall socket used in ‘normal’ houses, yet solar powered and with a different voltage and amperage.

Solar Medical 6-Pack

Only 34% of sub-Saharan hospitals have access to electricity and most health facilities lack basic resources including lights. Medical staff is often forced to improvise by using their mobile phones as guiding lights. This fundamental lack of basic medical equipment could explain the struggle to reduce the neonatal mortality rates, which accounts for 40–60% of infant mortality in developing countries. In fact, in Kenya alone, the United Nations estimates 7,000 women die each year when giving birth.

In response Flexiway Solar Solutions created a Solar Medical 6-Pack comprising four solar lights and two ultra-powerful solar head torches. The kit has been particularly welcomed by midwives and birth attendants who utilize the lights throughout antenatal, delivery and postnatal treatments, while simultaneously using green energy.

In partnership with Innovations for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health an initiative from Concern Worldwide in Sierra Leone, we recently tested our Solar Medical Kits. 18 rural health facilities participating in the Essential Newborn Care Corps project tested our lights and provided valuable feedback. The solar lights proved to be very practical and powerful enough to perform simple medical procedures and it was also found that the lights were ideal for accompanying women to the health facility during dark. It was concluded that birth attendants became more motivated when they had the appropriate resources to deliver improved care.

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