In late March, the African nation of Eswatini celebrated something that people in many countries take for granted – hot water at health clinics across the country. The hot water is heated by the sun, and could save many lives.
The country of Eswatini used to be known as Swaziland. Like many other countries around the world, it has struggled in its fight against the new coronavirus, which has caused many illnesses and deaths. One of the people who died from Covid-19 was the country’s prime minister, Ambrose Dlamini.
Eswatini has 14 hospitals, but many people live far enough away from these hospitals that they count on local health clinics instead. There are 92 local health clinics spread around the country. Some clinics see as many as 300 patients a day. Some patients may have walked as far as 9 miles (15 kilometers) to visit the clinic.
Before the coronavirus pandemic started, none of the clinics had running hot water for patients, and only a few had any hot water at all – even for performing surgery.
Lindiwe Magongo, who works as the head nurse at a clinic near Mbabane, says, “In 25 years working as a nurse, I have never had hot water in a clinic. Not for patients, not for nurses.”
Now that’s changed.
Robert Frazer is an Australian who runs a solar energy company. He was visiting Eswatini right before the coronavirus lockdown began in 2020. Mr. Frazer realized that he and his company could do something about the hot water situation at Eswatini’s clinics.
Working with the support of the German government, Mr. Frazer and his company came up with a plan to build hot water stations for all of the health clinics in Eswatini. It took just nine months to finish the project.
Now all 92 of Eswatini’s health clinics have a special solar-powered water station that provides hot water for both health care workers and patients.
The stations take in cold water, which is warmed by the sun in a dark solar panel. As the water heats up, it rises into the tank. Cooler water from the tank flows back into the panel, where it is heated even more.
Using this process, the water can be heated as hot as 194º Fahrenheit (90º Celsius). That’s hot enough to kill most germs, and far hotter than is needed for washing hands. At some clinics, health care workers have even used the hot water to make tea.
Themba Masuku has been the country’s acting prime minister since December. He says that providing hot water for the clinics was a challenge in the past. Part of the reason was the cost. The fact that the electricity often goes out made it even more difficult.
The $3,500 solar hot water stations were designed with these challenging conditions in mind. They require no electricity and are expected to last 20 years or more without needing repairs.
Did You Know…?
Though Mr. Frazer’s company and the German government donated the hot water stations, Eswatini’s government is paying Mr. Frazer’s company to work on a much larger solar project for the country.
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