Luampa power supply triggers euphoria


THE people of Luampa area in Kaoma district of Western Province are well attuned to the dark. They hardly watch television nor listen to the radio because electricity supply is limited; as limited as eight hours of every 24 on a good day and four hours on a bad day.
Thus when news of the construction of a 66/33/11kV ground-mounted transformer under the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) arrived, it was received with glad hearts and warm smiles by the people of Luampa.
The electricity supply to Luampa Mission Hospital and surrounding areas follows the earlier construction of an 11kV line by REA under the 2010 rural electrification programme.
Luampa Mission Hospital is the only referral hospital in the area that has served a community of several thousands since it was first built in 1963 by the Evangelical Church in Zambia.
For years hospital workers at Luampa Mission Hospital in Luampa have had to rely on a generator to run electrically powered equipment.
Falling seriously ill is a big risk in Luampa. Residents travel many kilometres to get to the hospital. The luckier travellers arrive at the hospital by motorcycles and bicycles which are a common feature in Luampa due to the area’s rough terrain. Others travel longer hours to the hospital if being ferried on ox-carts.
For many of them the journey is long and exhausting but must be made as a matter of life and death.
For members of staff at the hospital, the dark often makes them feel helpless at the sight of a patient in dire need of medical treatment.
Incubators lie idle and the main theatre is hardly in use despite being equipped for the performing of surgeries.
“When we are connected to the national grid, we will have space to breath. This is also for schooling and households,” said Sanki Chihinga, executive director of Luampa Mission Hospital.
“You may want surgery to be done at night but because you have no power you may need to transport the patient elsewhere or lose a life.”
Mr Chihinga has seen many in Luampa stare in the face of death and others succumbing to it because electricity rationing in the area affects the running of equipment that can be used in the saving of lives.
The hospital’s oxygen concentrator is only connected when electricity is supplied. ultra-sound scans are also only conducted when power is provided and the hospital’s laboratories operate its most basic equipment under overwhelming pressure.
The electricity challenges have also affected the supply of water to the hospital that is needed for sterilisation of equipment, drinking as well as bathing.
Mr Chihinga stresses that the few hours this section of Luampa is supplied with electricity are far from adequate.
“Some babies are born prematurely and for them we need to run incubators,” he says. “It traumatises us to lose them this way as incubating a premature baby is a simple case to handle as long as you have power.”
Motivation at Luampa Mission Hospital has been negatively affected by the poor electricity supply. The few hours the hospital supplies thermo-power through its 150 kVA generator eats away into half of the hospital’s budget.
There are those machines that cannot run on thermo power and patients are transported to Mongu’s Lewanika General Hospital when these machines are down due to limited power supply.
Luampa Mission Hospital’s outpatient department sees 300 patients each day. Its generator consumes 80 litres of diesel each day, translating into a cost of KR20,000 thousand.
The hospital has 35 professional staff and 35 general workers who include cleaners, porters, guards and drivers.
At least three medical doctors are required at the mission hospital yet it has only one and while 48 nurses would be adequate for the establishment, there are presently only 21.
The hospital has a catchment area of around 50km while Luampa’s population is 52,000.
“At the moment we are running on two vehicles,” Mr Chihinga explains. “One land cruiser is a utility vehicle but also operates as an ambulance and a Hilux double cab is used for anti-retroviral therapy programmes with the incorporation of voluntary male circumcision.”
Water at the hospital has to be stored in drums for each ward through an electric pump which is turned on whenever the hospital’s generator is run.
No fuel source exists at the hospital and a huge chunk of the monthly government grant is used in the purchase of fuel.
Luampa Mission Hospital gets a grant of KR26,000 (K26 million) each month, although it is yet to receive its February and March grants.
“We were coming down from KR11,000 under the previous regime but the new government surprisingly increased the amount,” Mr Chihinga says.
However, even the KR26, 000 the hospital gets monthly is only half the amount it actually needs to operate effectively.
Additionally fuel is needed by the hospital to track maternity cases which are received every day from rural health centres.
A huge burden would be lifted if the government could supply fuel to the hospital during the period of the electricity substation construction in Luampa.
Luampa was turned into a district this year and its three-week-old district commissioner (DC), Richard Simbula shared in the excitement embodied in the momentous occasion of the Luampa substation installation.
“We are excited about the project now that the new government is putting up a substation because wherever I’ve gone, people have been asking me when they would get a substation since they already have a line,” Mr Simbula says.
The main source of livelihood in Luampa district is farming, which is done on a relatively small-scale. Maize and cassava are the kind of crops better suited to the area.
Luampa district chairman and local farmer, Brian Musole, says the substation will help him diversify into other fields such as poultry and piggery.
“I had 10 pigs but now I have only one because it became costly to sustain the piggery with poor electricity supply to the area. Now that power will be supplied, I can look at reviving the piggery,” Mr Simbole said.
Studying has been a problem for students at Luampa Secondary School which runs a boarding facility particularly for those students who live far away from the school.
The weekly boarders arrive on Mondays to learn and are released every Friday. The day scholars travel several kilometres to and from school, mainly on bicycles.
Buffalo bicycles can be seen doted around Luampa area as both boys and girls help carry their schoolmates to school. The bicycles are quite a prominent feature at both Luampa primary and secondary schools.
They were provided by World Vision to aid the students that cover great distances to and from school each day.
The boarders are now adjusted to collecting firewood and using braziers to cook food for themselves in huts which are used as their hostels.
Head teacher at Luampa Secondary School, Philip Kwalenda, says electricity supply through the Luampa substation would be a great motivator to the teachers.
“Studying is presently a problem. The pupils cannot attend evening prep classes and because the power is limited, it caters for only three classes,” he shares. “If we need to print anything we have to take it to Kaoma.”
Mr Kwalenda says the student pass rate has also been negatively affected because without power the schools laboratories stay unused.
“What we need here is power. If there is power, there will be improvement in the results recorded and the teachers’ morale will also be boosted,” he added.
It will be at least another eight months until Luampa Mission Hospital as well as Luampa primary and secondary schools will light up; not from candles or with the aid of a generator, but through the ready supply of hydro-power.
The coming of the electricity substation will make rural living more bearable for the people of Luampa and for the patients admitted to Luampa Mission Hospital desperately in need of urgent medical care.