Dear Project Bo supporters,
I was back at Bo Government Hospital in December 2019 for a flying visit, which gave me a chance to assess the functioning of the solar power system in the newborn unit. The trip also provided an opportunity to try to make some progress in the second phase of our plans to improve the quality of care available to the mothers and babies in the unit. Thanks, as ever, to the Liebreich Foundation for making the trip possible!
The solar system has been a great success. I’m very pleased to be able to share some good news with you. We have managed to lower the number of deaths in the department while at the same time increasing the number of admissions. Before the solar system was installed, around 15% of all the admitted babies died. Now that figure is around 10% - still too high – but just as importantly, more people are coming for treatment for their babies, which is a sign of the confidence the population now have in the newborn service. In the 12 months after installing solar power, there were 170 more babies admitted compared to the previous 12 months. Previously those 170 unwell newborns would have most likely received no medical care at all.
These are extraordinary achievements and were reflected in the words of the staff, who constantly remarked on the difference that the Project Bo solar system has made to the lives of their exceptionally vulnerable patients. It is no longer a daily occurrence to watch newborn babies die for the want of simple oxygen or heat, and that has made a huge difference to the lives of these babies and also to staff morale.
However, the system has not been without its issues. This is a pioneering project, which has pushed boundaries every step of the way. Like any ambitious, innovative programme, we have had some unexpected problems. Firstly, the increase in demand has led to overcrowding of the hospital sleeping quarters for mothers. These women often end up sleeping outdoors on the hard concrete, exposed to malaria, thieves, storms, snakes and dogs, while they wait for up to a fortnight for their babies’ treatment to finish. The consequences have been that some mothers are bringing their babies home early, before their treatment is complete because they can’t cope with the conditions that they have to endure each night. This is completely understandable, as many of these women have undergone a long and difficult labour, or even surgery. It’s not reasonable to expect these women to sleep on the ground while breastfeeding and suffering in severe pain.
Secondly, the battery system has been giving us problems. Our engineering partners on the project, Energy For Opportunity, based in Freetown, are far more knowledgeable than me on the engineering reasons, but in essence a combination of increased demand and the way the system was connected to the grid mean that the batteries we installed are showing significant degradation. So we still have far too many power outages, and tragically some babies are still dying due to failures in the provision of oxygen or a lack of heat.
We’ve had great results so far: in one year we’ve averted around 60 deaths and delivered care to an extra 170 babies. This is an exceptionally cost-effective project and it has real impacts on whole families and whole communities. We need to fix the battery situation, and then just imagine what we could do if the mothers were all sufficiently comfortable to stay long enough for their babies to complete treatment. I have met with a builder and we have been given a site for construction of the new dorm by hospital management.
This next step in the development of the newborn unit will cost in the region of US$50,000. There are still some funds available from the original fundraise, and we have already received a few new donations for this phase of the project, but we need to find around $30,000.
We will be announcing full details of a new crowdsourcing drive shortly, but we would already welcome donations. If you can contribute, please contact Jo@liebreichassociates.com and she will let you know how you can donate.
Once again, many thanks for your support so far, and we’d be honoured if you would join us on the next phase of this amazing journey.
With very best wishes
Dr Niall Conroy