Project Bo: £100,000 campaign to save babies’ lives through solar power
On November 19, 2017 three babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Government Hospital in the city of Bo, Sierra Leone, died when a power shortage stopped their oxygen supply. Project Bo was established to ensure this never happens again.
Here is the tweet which started Project Bo:
“Three of our oxygen-dependent babies died last night when the power went off. Not good enough in 2017. Low-cost tech eg affordable solar power must be a priority for saving newborn lives“
- Niall Conroy @NICU_doc_salone, 20 Nov 2017
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Bo Government Hospital was set up in July 2017 by Dr Niall Conroy, Assistant Professor in Emergency Medical Science at University College Dublin, in partnership with UNICEF and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation. Infant mortality in Sierra Leone has always been among the highest in the world, and the country’s medical system was further compromised between 2014 and 2016 due to the Ebola crisis. Bo Government Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit treats around 70 very sick babies per month, around a quarter of whom do not survive.
By chance, Dr Conroy’s tweet was seen by Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Visiting Professor at Imperial College’s Energy Futures Lab and member of the high-level steering group of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
Michael Liebreich said: “Although I have been actively involved in advocating for universal energy access for many years, Dr Conroy’s tweet hit me like a punch in the guts. This is not about providing lights so that a shop can remain open in the evening, or so that kids can do their homework – important though those things are – this is about the lives of vulnerable babies being lost as a direct consequence of an unreliable power supply.”
Project Bo is raising £100,000 to provide a reliable power supply to the Bo Government Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, using solar power and batteries, with a diesel generator as backup. The system will be installed by Energy for Opportunity, a non-profit which has been developing clean energy projects in Africa since 2008.
The first £18,000 has already been committed by the Liebreich Foundation, the Rahul Boyle Foundation, Eurelectric and a private donor. Project Bo is also being supported by the Rahul Boyle Foundation and We Care Solar. Any funds over and above those needed to install the system will be used for maintenance, training and further improvements in neonatal care in the region.
Richenda Van Leeuwen, former Head of Energy Access at the UN Foundation and a supporter of Project Bo said: “I am delighted to be a part of this critically important initiative. No one, anywhere in the world, should lose their life in the 21st century due to a lack of electricity in their health clinic or during a hospital stay, least of all a new-born baby. Solar PV combined with batteries is the best way to provide the reliable power needed to save lives.”
Dr Niall Conroy said: “The possibility of having 24-hour solar power at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is enormously exciting for me and for the truly excellent staff who work there. It means they will be able to give these babies a real fighting chance, because right now they are dying because of the absence of such simple things as heat and oxygen, which we take for granted in the Western World.”