Tarek Loubani was stitching up a six-year-old girl with a cut just above her eye. It’s a routine procedure, and the hardest part is often just getting a kid to calm down and stay still. When Loubani finally got her relaxed, he began his procedure and stuck his suture needle into her brow. And then, suddenly, darkness. The power had cut out with his needle inserted just above her eye and she began thrashing.
Loubani spends most of time in Canada, where he works as an emergency room physician. He also volunteers around the world to bring medical care to under-privileged populations. The incident above took place in the Gaza Strip, where power outages regularly jeopardize patients’ treatments. Fortunately, Loubani was able to get the girl under control, and she wasn’t injured any further. Other patients and doctors haven’t been so lucky.
Hospitals in Gaza use unreliable–not to mention dirty and expensive–diesel generators to provide medical services to their patients. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Gaza’s electricity supply meets less than half of demand. Nearly a third of Gazans only have running water for part of the day every four days. Hospital equipment cannot operate regularly, including Gaza’s sole MRI machine.
“The lack of reliable electricity changes the behavior of doctors and puts patient lives at risk,” says Loubani. “The power shortages impact patients every minute of every day, but the worst affected patients are the sickest. I have seen patients on life support whose machines have turned off because of the power cut. I have seen seen patients who were undergoing life-saving procedures when medical equipment lost power.”
In the 2014 Israeli offensive on Gaza, hospitals were regularly bombarded, further disrupting medical care. Because the strip relies largely on purchases from Israel and Egypt to meet its energy needs, the power supply is often erratic. That confluence of circumstances lead Loubani and his colleagues to launch EmpowerGaza, an initiative to install solar panels on Gaza hospitals. Doing so would provide reliable and renewable electricity so that Gazans can have access to uninterrupted medical care.
“Solar power is an old idea, especially in the ‘sun belt’ that includes the Gaza strip,” says Loubani. “EmpowerGaza is a project led by physicians and policymakers in Gaza hospitals who realized that their patients were suffering because of the irregular and insufficient electrical supply.”
The team is currently crowdfunding $200,000 to build its first solar roof on Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza. Money above that total will go towards solar panels for three other hospitals in Gaza. The United Nations Development Program will oversee the implementation to ensure transparency. The agency will coordinate with the hospitals and run the official tender with solar panel manufacturers and installers.
“This is a project that works ecologically and economically for now and for the future,” says Loubani. “It is seldom that a project works so well on so many levels, and with the help of people around the world, we hope to make hospitals in Gaza safer, greener, and better.”