Until recently, the HIV/AIDS epidemic looked nearly impossible to address in developing countries, where the annual cost of treating people with anti-retrovirals (ARVs) was over $500 per year, often more than a family’s annual income.
In the face of such costs, many countries were barely treating those in urban areas, let alone in undeveloped rural regions. Over the last few years, strides have been made in reducing the cost of ARVs for developing countries.
With the Clinton Foundation leading the way to cut prices by 80% or more, it is now possible to reach millions of additional people.
In rural Tanzania, the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) is working to increase access to antiretrovirals and basic health care. A central element of success is reliable electricity for refrigeration of vaccines and medicines, bright lighting for childbirth and other medical procedures, and recordkeeping with computers (critical in administering complex regimes like those that accompany HIV treatment). By improving the quality of life, dependable power can also help retain rural healthcare workers who might otherwise be lured to the city.
Absent grid electricity in much of rural Tanzania, there are stopgap solutions like kerosene lamps, car batteries, and diesel generators. All are fraught with problems, kerosene and diesel in particular, since fossil fuels are subject to wild price swings and contribute to global warming. Additionally, kerosene lamps are a fire hazard, and diesel generators are notoriously unreliable.
Solar photovoltaics have come to be recognized as a compelling alternative, in no small part because of SELF’s decade-and-a-half of model projects. SELF’s record led the Clinton Foundation to ask our help in extending solar to four rural health centers in the Masasi District of Tanzania: in Chiwale, Mangaka, Michiga and Nanyumbu; and additionally a dispensary at Mauguruin. As part of the implementation, SELF trained a cadre of local men and women as solar technicians, equipping the project for long-term sustainability.
long with this project in Tanzania, the Clinton Foundation supports similar work in Rwanda by Partners In Health (PIH), a noted NGO. At the Foundation’s urging, SELF has also taken up the challenge of solar electrification of PIH’s Rwandan health facilities.
On the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the famed Jane Goodall Institute is 30 years old, but it still looks like a summer camp. The primitive buildings have no glass in the windows and only the research center has shutters. The make-do wire mesh doesn’t manage to keep out mamba snakes, and there was never any reliable electricity—until now. A grid extension costs about $20,000 per kilometer (.6 miles)—and electricity is not ensured. The researchers had been getting their light and power from a combination of candles, smoky kerosene lamps, and unreliable gas generators.
The Solar Electric Light Fund spearheaded a project to bring reliable, sustainable, and clean solar electricity to the Institute, providing electricity for lights, computers, and a water pump. The project used the most cutting-edge solar technology, choosing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) over compact fluorescent lighting. LEDs use very little energy and give up to 100,000 hours of use.
The Institute’s new photovoltaic system is designed to supply electricity to operate 140 lights for five to six hours a day, and to power five computers for four hours a day. The system also runs electric irrigation for a tree and shrub nursery developed by the local non-profit Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education project (TACARE). In the surrounding villages outside of the national park, deforestation is extreme. The solar-powered pump helps to combat the erosion and flooding there.
The solar system runs the refrigerator that contains DNA and tissue samples, medicines, snakebite anti-venom, and polio and other vaccines. Polio is present in large swaths of Africa and has been known to jump from people to chimpanzees. Until now, the refrigerator had to run on liquefied petroleum gas that was shipped more than 800 miles from Dar es Salaam.
Given the densely wooded area, and because tree trimming was very limited, finding access to the sun was a challenge. The solution was to install oversized solar modules on steel poles rising 14 feet above the ground. Mounting and wiring the modules was slow and difficult work, but perhaps the greatest challenge was to make the systems baboon-proof, “so that little nimble fingers could not grasp exposed wire to hang or swing from,” Lahl explained.
“They love to run and thunder across the metal roofs of the research center and like to jump, sit, lie, and sleep on the few existing solar modules on the roof at the research center,” Lahl said. “They only stay on the modules for a few minutes, so there’s not big loss of power. The benefit is that their fur keeps the modules clean and dusted.”
Eight men and two women were trained to maintain the system by an excellent teacher who instructed in Swahili. The students were so excited about solar energy and what it could do for them, they had to be pushed out the door every night after class.
Funding for this project was supplied by The Greenville Foundation, the Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust, ConocoPhilips, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Working with the Maasai
Working with the Ilaramatak Lolkonerei Integrated Pastoralist Survival Program (OIPSP), a rural Maasai pastoralist organization, SELF introduced many families to the benefit of solar lighting, trained additional Maasai technicians, and provided a solar powered HF radio for internal communications throughout Maasailand.
The OIPSP was formed by Maasai pastoralists in 1991 to catalyze rural development initiatives. The group seeks to allow Maasai families to thrive in the modern world while preserving their traditional lifestyle and culture. After experiencing problems with poaching and cattle rustling throughout the far-flung Maasailand, and lacking suitable lighting for evening work and study, OIPSP realized that electricity for lighting and communications was essential to preserving their livelihood. With the electric grid almost 100 miles away, and with kerosene and dry cell batteries providing limited utility, the OIPSP searched for other electricity options. They approached the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to request assistance in the development of an ambitious strategy to obtain solar photovoltaics (PV) for lighting and communications.
SELF helped the OIPSP to undertake a solar electrification program by helping to upgrade existing solar installations, training local Maasai men and women in PV installation, and seeding a revolving credit fund for the purchase of solar home systems (SHS) and solar lanterns. SELF also helped establish a tribally owned solar enterprise to market SHS and solar lanterns throughout Maasailand.
SELF has continued to support the OIPSP solar program. A grant from the Compton Foundation in 1995 allowed SELF to continue its solar program with the Maasai. In October, 1995, SELF helped purchase a PV lighting system for an OIPSP Community and Resource Training Center, and financed the purchase of six SHS and 32 solar lanterns which were sold on credit by Maasai entrepreneurs and installed by local technicians. Families and shop owners financed their systems through monthly payments into a revolving credit fund, which were used to pay for continued construction on the Community Resource Training Center. In addition, SELF helped the OIPSP purchase a high frequency radio telephone, allowing internal communications with two other existing HF radios in Maasailand, as well as allowing email capabilities through connection to the outside data networks in East Africa.
SELF has helped begin to bring electricity to Maasailand. While the Maasai pastoralists are interested in keeping their traditional culture, they also have a great desire to gain the benefits of modern lighting and communications. Under the direction of the OIPSP, they have “seen the light” and actively support the use of solar photovoltaics.