By Param Bhatter
Following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in Haiti and displaced over 1 million people from their homes, the people of Haiti were forced to move to poor off-grid rural areas around the city. However, the largest concerns for these rural areas are electricity and healthcare. There is only electricity available for about 20 percent of the country, and even for those who might have it, the power is often intermittent. Most of Haiti’s electricity generation is unsustainable, and based on imported diesel fuel from Venezuela. Most Haitians have to rely on charcoal and wood for fuel and energy, since they have no direct access to electricity. More importantly, this shortage of electricity creates an enormous challenge for attempting to run any hospital in the nation, as it jeopardizes surgeries, neonatal ventilators, basic cardiac EKG machines, and many other essential tasks and machines within the hospital. As famous Harvard School of Medicine Professor Paul Farmer noted, “it’s not great if you are a surgeon and you have to think about getting the generator going.”
Haiti however, with help from the nonprofit organization Partners in Health, was able to create the first ever fully sustainable teaching hospital anywhere in Haiti. Opened in 2013 in the city of Mirebalais, this hospital is the world’s largest solar hospital ever built, and the first of its kind in terms of sustainability. In just the seven months since opening, the hospital’s rooftop solar panels have generated enough electricity to charge close to 20,000 electric cars, attend to over 60,000 patients and operate six surgical rooms at full capacity. The hospital produces more than 100 percent of the electricity needed to operate during peak daylight hours. Using the solar panels slashed energy costs by close to $400,000 per year, which equates to an enormous amount of money in Haiti.
The sustainable innovation and creativity is evident in many parts of the hospital, and is consistent throughout its design. Most of the lighting is provided naturally through windows all around the hospital, minimizing the amount of artificial lighting necessary. In addition, there are many overhangs that create spots for shade, and healing gardens and courtyards as well. There is also an innovative plumbing system, which allows for efficient wastewater treatment. The natural ventilation allows UV light to enter many areas of the hospital, which kills many airborne pathogens such as tuberculosis (TB) and other infectious diseases that are often present in hospitals.
The hospital itself sees close to 500 patients a day, providing treatment ranging from primary health care services to more advanced treatment, often for patients without healthcare insurance or any other form of payment. Primarily however, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais provides primary healthcare services for the county of Mirebalais and the 200,000 people who live in its surrounding community. Since close to 80 percent of Haiti’s medical infrastructure was destroyed during the 2012 earthquake, the hospital is essential for providing care for a large group of people, even some residents of Port-au-Prince, which is only 30 miles away from Mirebalais. Many of the hospitals primary care services include community health care services, care for HIV/AIDS, TB treatment, neonatal care and prenatal care. With its commitment to sustainability and the community, the hospital additionally serves as a school of medicine, employing over 1,000 residents of the local Haitian community.
As the first hospital of its kind to be seen in a Third World country, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais sets a new standard for healthcare and development in developing countries. The lessons learned from the hospital will be invaluable for Partners in Health, its partners and anyone else who wishes to undertake such ambitious and sustainable projects in relation to healthcare.
Image by Partners In Health