Results tagged “Paul Farmer” from Bob Freling's Solar Blog

A lack of power was responsible for a lot of deaths in the first few days [after the earthquake],” writes Partners In Health (PIH) Executive Director Ophelia Dahl in a recent message.

She explains:

With electricity knocked out around Haiti, surgeons were forced to operate on patients using flashlights. Laboratory and diagnostic equipment were rendered useless. Electric water pumps were nonfunctional. Gas generators helped fill the gap. But finding fuel quickly became difficult, and gas that could be found carried price tags as high as $20 a gallon in the days following the earthquake.  Many of our clinics powered by gas generators came uncomfortably close to running out of fuel.

As PIH begins to move from short-term relief efforts towards long-term recovery and rebuilding work, finding sustainable ways to power hospitals will become a priority.

Since 2006, Partners In Health has been working in partnership with the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to provide solar power to hospitals in Rwanda, Lesotho, and most recently, in Haiti.

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The first time I met Paul Farmer, he said something to the effect of…“Bob, I’m thrilled about bringing solar power to Rwanda, but what about Haiti?  When are you guys going to help us in Haiti?”. 

I have the Clinton Foundation, especially Edwin Macharia, to thank for the introduction to Partners In Health.  I met Edwin at the inaugural Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in September 2005.  Edwin, a brilliant and hard-working Kenyan who at the time worked for the Clinton Foundation, approached me at the conference and asked if SELF could help provide reliable power for a series of rural clinics in Tanzania. That conversation led to a collaboration between SELF and the Clinton Foundation to solar electrify 4 rural health clinics in the Masasi District of southern Tanzania under the auspices of the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI).

Since the Clinton Foundation was also supporting the work of Partners In Health in Rwanda, a program which had just been launched in the spring of 2005, Macharia encouraged me to also talk with PIH about the possibility of using solar energy to power the 5 rural health centers in eastern Rwanda that were being operated by Partners In Health.

Several months later I traveled to PIH’s headquarters in Boston to meet with PIH Executive Director Ophelia Dahl and several of her colleagues. I was accompanied by Jeff Lahl, SELF’s Project Director. Jeff and I went over the pros and cons of solar vs. diesel for powering rural health centers, and explained that while a photovoltaic solution would be more expensive upfront, it would save considerable money over time.  Furthermore, we argued, solar would be more sustainable and reliable than diesel. Shortly thereafter, PIH committed to working with SELF to solar electrify their 5 rural health centers in Rwanda.


In July 2006 I visited Rwanda for the first time, just as the first of our solar installations for PIH was getting underway. My trip coincided with President Clinton’s visit to Rwanda.  While he was visiting PIH’s hospital in Rwinkwavu, Jeff Lahl and I had an opportunity to brief President Clinton on SELF’s solar solution for Partners In Health. 

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After the success of Rwanda, PIH decided to “go solar” across the board – at each and every one of their 40+ health centers in Rwanda, Malawi, Lesotho, and Haiti.  

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we have been requested by PIH to accelerate our timeline for bringing solar power to all of their sites in Haiti.  Diesel fuel is already in short supply and will likely become even more difficult to obtain as time goes by.  Solar can serve as a foundation for a robust and sustainable healthcare infrastructure in Haiti.

Stand With Haiti

As the world mobilizes to respond to the crisis in Haiti, our partner, Partners In Health (PIH), is on the ground making arrangements to set up a field hospital. SELF is diverting 13 kW of solar panels to the temporary facility to provide electricity for critical lighting and emergency medical treatment. However, much more help is needed.

PIH headquarters reports that:

Over the past 18 hours, PIH staff in Boston and Haiti have been working to collect as much information as possible about the conditions on the ground, the relief efforts taking shape, and all relevant logistics issues in order to respond efficiently and effectively to the most urgent needs in the field. At the moment, PIH’s Chief Medical Officer is on her way to Haiti, where she will meet with [their] leadership and head physicians, who are already working to ensure PIH’s coordinated relief efforts leveraging the skills of more than 120 doctors and nearly 500 nurses and nursing assistants who work at [PIH’s] sites.

If you wish to contribute to the relief effort in Haiti, we encourage you to support PIH’s work on the ground for immediate assistance to the survivors.

Donate to PIH >>



Paul Farmer and Bob in Haiti

While now is the time to support disaster relief, SELF will continue to work with PIH and the people of Haiti in the reconstruction and continuing economic development of their communities.

Formulated by the United Nations as a blueprint for meeting the needs of the world’s poorest citizens, the Millennium Development Goals, or “MDGs” as they’re referred to, set forth a bold and comprehensive prescription for eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, and protecting the environment.

Astonishingly, access to modern energy has not been included by the United Nations as one of the Millennium Development Goals, despite the fact that, without an energy component, none of the MDGs are ultimately achievable.

Didn't they know that Energy is a Human Right?

They should've asked my friend Dr. Paul Farmer (Partners in Health).

He'd tell them that a reliable energy source is essential for the operation of hospitals and clinics.

With the exception of Egypt and South Africa, 85 percent of Africa’s 680 million people live in rural areas without electricity.


Diesel generators are the traditional solution — but hardly the best. Diesel is expensive and polluting, including greenhouse gases. And generator breakdowns are common, with replacement parts typically miles and days away.

Faced with a choice between solar and diesel at five rural health clinics in eastern Rwanda, Partners In Health took the solar path, collaborating with SELF on systems for the communities of Mulindi, Rusumo, Rukira, Nyarabuye, and Kirehe. The systems are solar- diesel hybrid systems that generate 90 percent or more of their power from the sun, with diesel generators for back-up during prolonged heavy usage, or in periods of rain.

Back to Dr. Farmer.  Here's what he said about the impact of solar power on the operations of his clinics:

"You can't do this without electricity. Because you're not going to have an operation room. You're not going to have a laboratory. You're not going to see people at night..."

More on Partners In Health and SELF here»

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