SAVING LIVES WITH SOLAR POWER
By: Bernardo T. Caringal and Eleazar P. Manaog (DOST-PSTC Marinduque)
Access to primary healthcare services can be critical in rural communities due to geographic distance. Truth be told that if not the facility itself is missing, necessary or appropriate healthcare services cannot be accessed in a timely manner. Most rural communities in the country have been left grappling with electricity shortage, and for critical sectors that highly depend on it, such as health, a sudden power cut and voltage fluctuation are big problems. Can you imagine a mother giving birth during emergency situations, a typhoon perhaps, and then the power goes out unexpectedly? Or how a power failure can throw first-hand responders into disarray?
Since the development of RxBox in 2015, rural communities provided with the units have been well-advanced in meeting the challenge of access to health care. RxBox is a DOST-developed 6-in-1 portable telehealth device that allows point-of-care data capture, storage, and sharing capabilities. The device has built-in medical sensors for monitoring blood pressure and oxygen levels, assessing the strength of a pregnant mom’s uterine contraction, and an electrocardiogram and fetal heart monitor for monitoring of heartbeat. Like most medical devices, it runs on electricity. However, a major barrier to healthcare access in island and rural communities, particularly through the utilization of the telehealth technology, is the struggle to connect to the grid and maintaining a reliable power supply.
MIMAROPA Region is no exemption from the same problem since it lies on various islands and waters of the seas surrounding the Philippines which make it seem remote from the rest of the country. This is why technologies harnessing the forces of nature, the wind, sea, and the sun in particular in generating power is being developed and is gaining support.
The advocacy of the Department of Science and Technology- MIMAROPA (DOST-MIMAROPA) Regional Director, Dr. Ma. Josefina P. Abilay, to provide meaningful healthcare improvement in rural communities across the region through innovative solutions, kept the agency to be at the forefront of the indefatigable lobbying efforts to convince the Department of Health- MIMAROPA (DOH-MIMAROPA) and local government units in Marinduque to move first in electrification of health facilities in Marinduque using the Solar Home System (SHS).
With the collaboration of DOST-MIMAROPA, DOH-MIMAROPA and Local Governments of Marinduque, rural health facilities in Brgy. Bantay in Boac and Brgy. Maniwaya in Sta. Cruz were installed with 750-watts solar home systems which could provide an affordable and effective way to bring power for lighting and ventilation as well as for cold storage of vaccines and in making the facility 24-hr operational.
The basic system consists of solar panel, charge controller, battery and inverter, installed in an orientation that could get the maximum energy from sunlight. With a reliable power supply, the RxBox can now be fully- utilized in the RHU for checkups to avoid putting patient’s health, especially those of expectant mothers, in jeopardy.
In another development and still with the same linkages, the local government units of Gasan and Boac proposed for the roll out of solar home system technology in three of the most isolated areas in Marinduque—Brgy Pinggan (Gasan), Brgy Tumagabok and Brgy Binunga (of Boac). A birthing facility in Brgy Binuga will soon be provided with a solar home system to address the dire need for consistent power supply and provide an improved and sustainable healthcare access even to farthest communities in the province.
Solar Energy: Your Go-to Power Source in times of Disaster
With the rise of extreme-weather related disasters affecting the Philippines, loss of power and damage in communication lines as well as horrific loss of lives and properties are becoming apparent most especially in rural affected areas. Due to these, many people are forced to live inevacuation centers in the hopes of getting away from danger and finding a safe shelter for them and their families.
Mayor Senen Livelo, of Mogpog, Marinduque recognized the need for consistent energy supply in critical facilities like evacuation centers. To respond to the needs of the community, DOST-MIMAROPA through the Provincial Science and Technology Center in Marinduque (PSTC-Marinduque) with assistance from LGU-Mogpog, installed a disaster-ready solar home system technology for lighting, ventilation, and charging communication gadgets and other devices in 18 barangay halls in Mogpog namely: Dulong Bayan, Gitnang Bayan, Sumangga, Banto, Lamesa, Malayak, Paye, Hinadharan, Sayao, Guisan, Balanacan, Villa Mendez, Laon, Brgy. Capayang, Argao, Market Site, Bocboc and Silangan. These solar-powered barangay halls will serve as well-equipped shelter that would accommodate people when natural disaster strikes.
Apart from the barangay halls, solar home system will soon be available to six national high schools across Mogpog as well as in schools located in two of the most geographically-isolated areas in Marinduque: Brgy Pinggan in Gaspar Island, Gasan and Brgy Tumagabok in Boac. The solar home system will enable at least 3 classrooms of the schools to serve as alternative evacuation centers with uninterrupted power supply in critical times or during emergency.