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Smile Train, KidsOR To Launch Solar To Power Operating System Across Africa

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By Sunday Elom

Smile Train, a world’s largest cleft-focused nongovernmental organization in collaboration with Kids Operating Room (KidsOR) will soon launch solar-powered operating rooms and solar surgery system across Africa.

In a statement made available to journalists, the global health NGOs noted that the purpose of embarking on the solar surgery system is to reduce the cost and carbon footprint of surgery, while increasing quality and patient safety across low- and middle-income countries, starting in Africa.

The organizations explained that after a successful four-month solar panel pilot program at a mock operating room in Dundee, Scotland, where KidsOR is based, “the two organizations are moving forward to provide sustainable, reliable power to operating rooms in parts of Africa where the main power grid is unstable and power outages are common.”

The President and Chief Executive Officer of Smile Train, Susannah Schaefer, said that “This initiative aims to give consistent and reliable power to medical professionals in the operating room that will enhance patient care and safety while protecting much needed medical equipment that can be damaged when there’s a voltage irregularity with the main power grid.”

“We work closely with the team at KidsOR on hospital infrastructure projects and we asked them if they could develop a solution to this significant, multifaceted problem,” Schaefer added.

Smile Train is a nongovernmental global health organization that empowers local medical professionals with training, funding and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children, while Kids Operating Room on the other hand is a global health NGO that works directly with local surgeons and their teams across Africa and South America, transforming hospital spaces into dedicated operating rooms for children’s surgery. 

Smile Train and KidsOR work together in countries around the world to increase capacity for safe pediatric surgery, including lifesaving cleft lip and palate surgeries. 

The organizations pointed out that power cuts in African hospitals can severely impact on patient care with many hospitals suffering from hundreds of hours of power outage each month.

In many African countries, there are some places where power outage last for days. “Meanwhile, when they’re working at full capacity, operating rooms are a significant source of greenhouse gas production for hospitals.”

“To help tackle this dual challenge, Smile Train and KidsOR will begin implementing stand-alone solar battery support systems in pediatric operating rooms in Africa in 2023, with the first hospitals being identified now. 

“Solar panels will be mounted on the roof of a facility, which will charge a battery unit capable of powering medical equipment in an operating room continually during daylight and for a further six hours after sunset,” the organizations noted.

The Chairman of KidsOR, Garreth Wood, said that picking up the challenge to develop a surgery specific power system, “Our team are experts at working in remote and challenging environments and we approached this with a view that we had to provide seamless power supply to the operating rooms of even the most remote hospitals.

“Our solution is a combination of solar systems with some new developments, some of which are so unique that we 3D print them for each project. We can now deploy a power unit that removes reliance on the national grid, requires no diesel generator back-up, reduces the carbon footprint of each operation, increases patient safety and integrates high tech activities like anaesthetic gas scavenging to even the world’s most remote hospital.”

According to the global health NGOS, their shared model is to strengthen the local healthcare system and give the local doctors tools and skills needed to care for their own population.

To this end, Wood added that “This unique solar surgery system makes the best possible care available to the most vulnerable and remote child. While improving health today, this partnership will also make sure we aren’t contributing to the climate change burdens of tomorrow.”

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