MUBENDE/MPIGI— As part of efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable groups in Uganda are catered for in the fight against the global pandemic COVID-19, maternity wards at Muduuma Health Centre III in Mpigi district and Kalama Health Centre III in Mityana on Saturday had solar lights installed to enable health workers deliver babies safely.
On Saturday July 4, we visited the health centres as engineers from Village energy set up the installations. At Muduuma, we arrived at 4pm, at the same time an expectant mothers was having labour pains, attended to by three midwives. Several hours later, at about 6:30pm, power went off at the health centre as a result of load shedding. The midwives there told us it was the normal routine for load shedding at that time on a daily basis.
The health centre previously had solar lights installed, however, we were told the system was faulty and kept switching on and off. So from 6:30 up to about 8pm, the entire health centre located on Muduuma hill some 20kms out of Mpigi Town, was covered in pitch darkness. The midwives resorted to using phone lights to help the mother put to bed.
As we waited for the mother to deliver so we could speak to the health workers about the new lights, Village energy engineers went about their work of installations, albeit in evident distress from the screams of the mother who was having extended labour pains. By 7:30pm, the engineers had managed to set up lights in the labour suite, the lavatories and a security light to lighten up the compound for easy access to the maternity ward. The outside light also turned out useful to other expectant mothers who took strolls around the ward waiting for their turn to be attended to.
The installation is part of a donation made by Signify Foundation, Dembe Group and the Danish Refugee Council to Ugandans in an effort to help curb the spread of the corona virus.
In May, the group made a pledge to Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to relieve health workers from the burden of working in the dark. They donated solar lighting systems worth Shs450,000,000 to be installed in 20 health centres across the country.
The Philips equipment will provide a properly lit environment for Health Workers to operate in a hygienic environment according to Anil Damani, the Chief Executive Officer of Dembe Group. The equipment includes 42 Philips Solar Compound Security Lights 72 Philips Indoor solar Lighting Systems to provide Lighting to Wards and Rooms and 810 Philips Solar Lanterns.
In addition, a Philips Ultraviolet sterilisation Machine to sterilise the personal protective equipment given to protect the Health workers and minimize the risk of accidental contamination and spread of the disease, among other equipment.
Mr Damani said the donation demonstrates the commitment by their group towards Uganda and the well- being of all Ugandans.
Signify Foundation has provided Philips equipment and Lighting to Health Centres and Organisations in Wuhan, China, USA, Spain, India and other Covid-19 affected countries.
While receiving the equipment, the Prime Minister, himself a medical doctor said the donation will be a big relief to health centres across the country.
Dr Rugunda said that the lack of lighting during treatment exposes patients to increased risk of infection and birth complications.
According to the World Health Organisation, hundreds of patients in Africa, especially women die from preventable causes. Some mothers, rather than go to deliver in unlit health centres, have chosen to wait till morning, putting their lives at risk.
At Kalama Health Centre III in Nsambya Village, Mityana District, health workers could not hide their excitement when the indoor solar lights were switched on.
Grace Nakawuka, who has been a nursing assistant at the isolated health centre for the last 20 years says the new lights will transofrm the health centre and the surrounding areas into a modern place. According to Nakawuka, the health centre serves a catchment population of an average 7,000 people coming from 15 villages surrounding the health centre.
She said because the health centre had no lights, patients did not bother going for medical attention beyond 6pm. This resulted in several deaths reported. She adds that in instances that patients turned up at night, the health workers, who are all female would fear to get out of their houses in the dark to attend to them. The health centre has no security guard and the only male employee is a cleaner who cannot always provide security at night.
So far, lights have been installed at Ocean Health Centre III, Siripi Health Centre III and Ofua Health Centre III in Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Arua District. Mobile lights have also been given to health workers to allow ease of movement to attend to patients at night. Kamwokya slum in Kampala has also benefitted from the donation as others await installations which continue into the year.