22 February 2019
Breaking News

Solar energy powers dying health centre

Written by  Aliko Munde
Solar panel and treatment house at Nthungwa Health Centre, -Pic by Aliko Munde Solar panel and treatment house at Nthungwa Health Centre, -Pic by Aliko Munde

Nkhata Bay, October 24: It serves 59 villages with a population of close to 30, 000 people but instead of saving lives, the health centre degenerated into a hub of infectious diseases due to lack of water.

Nthungwa Health Centre is in Nkhata Bay west, within Viphya Plantation, 40 km from Mzuzu City and 87 km away from Nkhata Bay District Hospital.

The closest referral hospital from Nthungwa is Mzuzu Central Hospital, situated over 40 kilometres away.

Without good access roads, the health centre had been a life saving facility until a few years ago when gravity-fed taps that came with it ran dry.

The health centre caters for three villages from Nkhata Bay with a population of 4 280 and 56 villages from Mzimba side with a population of 24 000 people.

When the gravity-fed system dried up, water woes became severe to the effect that patients and guardians who patronized the hospital ended up contracting infectious diseases due to lack of water.

Guardians and health workers were drawing water in buckets from long distances in unprotected sources. To this effect, some people could spend days without taking a bath leading to skin diseases like scabies.

“As a result, instead of the health centre being a place where patients would get healed of their ailments, it became a hub of infectious diseases,” says the facility’s officer-in-charge Raphael Chambuluka.

But now all that is history as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently pumped in K37 million towards installation of solar powered water supply system at the health centre.

Also known as Ground Force 200, the submersible water pump, is powered by a 340-kilowatt solar panel and the system includes a water treatment house plus a 10,000-litre tank.

“The environment is now conducive to provision of health care; we have treated water source that runs throughout. We are really enjoying our work unlike in the past,” says excited Chambuluka.

He says, in the past, the water problems were particularly worse in the maternity ward.

“The problems were severe in our maternity ward, which needs more water, and this affected the safe motherhood programme being promoted by different stakeholders,”
 he says.

His sentiments are echoed by Nolenji Mphande of Katazuka Village in the area of Traditional Authority Kampingo Sibande, in Mzimba.

Mphande, who is awaiting delivery of her first child at the health centre, says the new solar powered taps have put a smile on people’s faces.

“Guardians no longer walk long distances to fetch water. Since I came here three weeks ago, the water taps have not gone dry.

“We thank UNICEF for giving us this safe drinking water. This is good development. We are living in rural area but drinking safe water,” she says.

According to UNICEF website, better water, sanitation and hygiene practices are catalysts for the survival of children and women.

Apart from disease prevention, improved water supply services have direct impact on the lives of women and girls by, among others, reducing the burden of carrying buckets of water from long distances.

Nkhata Bay District Director of Health and Social Services Dr Mwatikonda Mbendela says there is need to have solar powered water systems in all health facilities.

“Unlike gravity-fed water system which dries up during dry season, solar powered water supply runs throughout the year. We are grateful to UNICEF.

“If we can have this kind of water system in all health centers in the district and country as a whole, there will no longer be water problems,” Dr Mbendela says.

Sustainable Development Goal number six states that many people still lack access to safely managed water supply and sanitation facilities hence the need to ensure efficient and improved water management to meet growing demand.

As one way of achieving the goal, government and other stakeholders have been drilling boreholes and installing gravity-fed piped water in rural areas.

However, drilling of boreholes in mountainous areas like some parts of Nkhata Bay has been a challenge.

Gravity-fed water systems have also suffered environmental degradation leading to drying up of water sources as a result of deforestation in the mountainous areas.

Again, according to UNICEF, it is estimated that about 30 percent of boreholes and 50 percent of gravity-fed water schemes in Malawi do not function. 

To this effect, Nkhata Bay District Water Development Officer Alex Mwanjasi Mwakikunga says the council has plans to install solar powered water systems at Kambuni Health Centre before the end of this year.

“Next year, we will implement the same at Chitheka and Chesamu health centres.

“It is the wish of the council to have solar powered water supply systems in all the health centres in the district,” Mwakikunga says.