MAF upgrades electrics for isolated South Sudan hospital as malaria cases soar

28th April 2022

St Theresa’s Hospital in Nzara, Western Equatoria State, treats around 20,000 patients per year. As one of the few functioning hospitals in the region, St Theresa’s is a lifesaver, treating a range of conditions including seasonal malaria. On 28 June, MAF engineer Phil Buhler upgraded the electrics, to better serve remote communities. MAF’s Jenny Davies reports…

St Theresa’s Hospital in Western Equatoria State, South Sudan is run by an order of nuns – the Comboni Sisters – in partnership with the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and supports around 250,000 people scattered across the region (source: Sudan Relief Fund).

The hospital provides general, surgical, gynaecological, maternal, neonatal, dental and eye care. Although they specialise in treating TB, HIV/AIDS and leprosy, patients with malaria hike during mid rainy season (June to October), which puts huge pressure on hospital resources.

According to a recent CMMB report, in the last week of June this year, nearly half of the 269 out-patients (44%), were suffering from malaria. 111 of these 120 malaria cases (92%) had severe malaria – a medical emergency, which could lead to death if left untreated.

Patients with gastroenteritis is also extremely common, caused by dirty drinking water contaminated by sewage and parasites – a preventable disease.

St Theresa’s facilities include an accidental and emergency department, out-patients department, a medical ward, blood bank, laboratory, anti-retroviral services, TB clinic, a small operating theatre, dental clinic and eye-care services.

24/7 power is critical for a hospital

In a country with poor infrastructure shattered by years of civil war, St Theresa’s lifesaving services are reliant on a 24/7 electricity supply, generated by a solar power system, which is backed up by generators.

In a bid to optimise peak power performance and reduce the risk of power failure in future, the Catholic Medical Mission Board asked MAF to install an inverter into the solar powered system.

Simply put, solar panels absorb sunlight and generate direct current (DC power), which needs to be converted to alternating current (AC power) with the help of an inverter. AC power then flows into the building’s electrical panel, which powers the appliances within.

St Theresa’s has a bank of solar panels capable of running its lights and electrical equipment across the entire hospital. There are six inverters in total.

On 28 June, MAF electrical engineer Phil Buhler boarded a MAF flight from the capital Juba to Yambio – Nzara’s nearest airstrip. After an hour’s drive, Phil was able to install the hospital’s newest inverter.

Phil says they had to switch off the solar power system and rely on the back-up generator during the two-day installation:

‘The hospital ran on its generator while we completed the work. It was important to keep the electrical supply running because it powers oxygen concentrators on one of the wards.

‘This vital equipment is used to treat people with respiratory diseases like pneumonia. Children and older people are vulnerable to these conditions.’

A fully functioning solar power system is a reliable and cost-effective method of powering a hospital in a country with an inconsistent power supply says Phil:

‘Solar power is a sustainable solution for remote hospitals where it can be difficult to access fuel to run the generator.

‘It takes more than 60 litres of fuel per day to keep the generator running!’

An isolated hospital for remote communities

With only a handful of blood banks in the whole of South Sudan, which has a population of 12 million people, St Theresa’s blood bank and critical care services are a rare and precious commodity.

For those fortunate enough to have access to a vehicle, it’s not uncommon for patients to travel many hours to receive treatment. Others simply walk for miles or don’t make it at all because the journey is simply too far.

During Phil’s stay, there was a downpour one night. Phil reflects on the daily travel woes of the locals at the height of the rainy season:

‘It rained heavily the night we arrived. If we travelled the next day, we’d be slipping and sliding all over the road, disappearing into potholes as big as lakes – even in a 4X4!

‘It’s challenging here during the wet season, especially for patients arriving at the hospital by boda boda (motorbike taxies) or on foot.

‘Hospitals like St Theresa’s are vital for people in the surrounding remote, rural areas who face many barriers accessing medical care.’

Phil Buhler, MAF electrical engineer

On the mend!

Thanks to MAF meeting St Theresa’s Hospital’s technical needs, medical staff can better meet the needs of their patients. More and more people are on the road to recovery:

41-year-old James contracted TB and received treatment from St Theresa’s TB clinic. He is now gaining weight and very grateful to the team.

50-year-old Martha had developed painful ulcers on her right leg and foot and was unable to stand or walk on her own. Thanks to antibiotics and care from St Theresa’s, the infection and wounds cleared up. Martha is now able to stand and walk on her own. She’s very appreciative of the doctors and nurses who treated her.

39-year-old Rose was diagnosed with HIV and had a severe lung infection, which made breathing difficult. She was admitted to St Theresa’s for oxygen therapy and was hooked up to a patient monitoring machine until she recovered. Rose is now in good health and very thankful to everyone who helped her.