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African Doctor Heals with Solar Energy

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  • African Doctor Heals with Solar Energy

    San Francisco BayView, News Report, Janette D. Sherman, M.D. , Posted: Dec 04, 2007

    How do you work to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria without power? "With great difficulty," answers Dr. Kobina Atobrah, who is working with colleagues to provide dependable and reliable power to run clinics in remote areas.

    Originally from Ghana, Dr. Atobrah holds degrees from Princeton University and is a systems engineer and chairman of Geomatric Technology Corp. in Asburn, Va. He works with Charles Bigelow, who holds a degree in nuclear physics and is president of Light Speed Power of Boyce, Va. Bigelow has been working on support of medical facilities utilizing solar and wind power in Papua New Guinea. Previously, the team coordinated telecommunications development for Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., and solar and wind power for other facilities.

    Providing light and refrigeration is just part of the problem. Without clean water, communication and records maintenance, much effort is either not available or becomes lost.

    While diesel generators have been used for years, they are noisy, give off toxic fumes and require a regular supply of fuel, often transported over long distances on poor roads. Atobrah and his associates have developed the Integrated Distributed Utilities Network (IDUN) to provide support for infrastructure requirements for such basic needs as potable water, telecommunications and Internet access.

    An IDUN can be located at community-based clinics, village and town clinics, clinics-on-wheels and portable medical labs for dispensing anti-viral treatment for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other endemic diseases that plague those living in the developing world. Adequate medical care requires that practitioners and patients have access to such basics as a refrigerator, a light, record keeping and communication. From remote areas, a satellite phone powered by solar energy can send data to a central location to coordinate care and handle emergencies.

    In his tent, Dr. Atobrah has a refrigerator to store vaccines and medicines, a computer, a satellite telephone and a light. The equipment to support this effort is contained in a single suitcase on the floor. The case is strong enough to be dropped by parachute into a remote area. Bigelow learned that the solar panels keep on working even after they have been damaged by a truck rollover and gunshot holes.

    An IDUN is run by solar and/or wind power. Solar panels can recharge multiple batteries of varying sizes, run water pumping and purification systems, telecommunication cell sites, and lanterns.

    While providing medical care, solar-powered water pumping may be the next most critical issue. Dr. Atobrah uses it for livestock. Animals use a solar powered pump facility one at a time, eliminating waste of water and contamination of the surrounding ground.

    Atobrah and Bigelow have been joined by three experienced colleagues originally from Ghana. They are Sammy Boakye, with a master's degree in economics from the University of Ghana and finance degree from St. Francis University in Fort Wayne, Ind. He is CEO of Educational Telecommunications System in Fort Worth, Texas, and for several years senior officer at Sprint and Motorola.

    Holding a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Maryland is Kwasi Bosompem, executive director of Let's Go Africa Foundation, based in Waldorf, Md. Mr. Bosompem has written three books on the socioeconomic policies affecting sub-Saharan Africa.

    Kwamena Cudjoe, with a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Maryland, is CEO of West Africa Commodities Exchange, Gaithersburg, Md. Dr. Cudjoe has developed and marketed an instant cooking rice, "jollof rice," popular in West Africa and the Caribbean to be used for school nutrition programs.

    These professionals have combined their experiences and expertise to bring infrastructure support to communities to prevent and treat the deadly diseases affecting tropical Africa.

    Perhaps the most valuable property of solar and wind energy is that it is decentralized. Panels can be mounted on any building with a flat or gently slanting roof that can support them, or on poles set in the ground. The power is generated where it is used and thus eliminates the need for long distance power transmissions lines.

    When public or diesel power fails, those with solar and wind power will be able to continue to function. In many communities in Africa where there is no public power, these medical facilities will be able to provide medical and emergency care when and where they are most needed.

    Janette D. Sherman, M.D.,, is a physician and toxicologist, specializing in chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects. The author of "Chemical Exposure" and "Life's Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer," she has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco.
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