As of November 2022, the World Bank recorded that close to 70% of Somalia’s population lives in poverty and 90% suffer from multidimensional impoverishment. Among many other basic necessities, many cannot afford health care services that prevent or cure fatal diseases, such as pneumonia. Solar-powered oxygen systems in Somalia provide an innovative solution to address pneumonia and prevent pneumonia-related deaths in Somalia. However, before early 2021, health facilities in Somalia struggled to provide patients with critical oxygen.
Pneumonia in Somalia
Many diseases plague Somalia due to widespread poverty and a lack of access to health care, nutritious food, clean water and safe sanitation. In 2019, lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, stood as the number one disease contributing to the highest number of deaths in Somalia. Somalia has one of the world’s highest rates of child mortality and pneumonia accounts for 25% of these deaths.
Pneumonia is a severe respiratory disease impacting the lungs. Caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi, pneumonia leads to breathing difficulties. A person with pneumonia experiences pain while breathing and cannot breathe in enough oxygen. “Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, parents can prevent pneumonia in children through vaccinations to protect against “Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis),” the WHO highlights. To ensure the effectiveness of immunization, adequate nutrition is essential. Because Somalia is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Somali children suffer from malnutrition and undernutrition, which puts them at risk of weakened immune systems that could make them more susceptible to acquiring pneumonia.
Apart from the importance of adequate nutrition, oxygen is needed in large quantities as a therapy to combat pneumonia. Somalia lacks oxygen systems, tanks and other essential equipment, which makes the treatment of pneumonia and pneumonia-related diseases difficult. The need for oxygen systems in the country became more apparent and urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic as many people needed these to survive.
Poor parents in Somalia struggle to access health care services for their children because of financial constraints, putting timely health care treatment out of reach. Another issue impacting health care facilities is a lack of electricity to operate essential equipment and oxygen concentrators. The introduction of solar-powered oxygen tanks in Somalia resolves this issue.
Solar-Powered Oxygen Systems
A collaboration between the WHO, the innovative nonprofit Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) and a team from the University of Alberta gave rise to an innovation that has so far saved many from pneumonia-related deaths in Somalia.
Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, a WHO Somalia representative, said in an interview with VOA News, “pneumonia is the deadliest disease among children under the age of five in the country. Until now, health authorities had not had access to an intervention that could reduce deaths from childhood pneumonia.”
The partners installed the solar-powered oxygen system, “the first of its kind,” in January 2021 at the Hanaano General Hospital in Dusamareb, Somalia. By harnessing the sun, which is a cost-free resource, the systems capture enough solar energy to use during the day, at night and at times when the weather is not sunny, like on cloudy days.
The solar-powered oxygen system provided critical oxygen to 171 patients at the hospital from February 2021 to October 2021. Of these patients, 163 patients (95.3%) made full recoveries.
The innovative and life-saving solar-powered oxygen systems in Somalia have reduced the cost of treatment for pneumonia and pneumonia-related diseases and can operate without an electricity supply. This medical innovation has the potential to significantly reduce the mortality rate in the country.
– Oluwagbohunmi Bajela