Premature baby saved by ‘power’

THE just constructed 66/33/11 KV, 2.5MVA sub-station by the Rural Electrification Authority in Luampa district in Western Province. PICTURE: KALUMBA CHIBABILA/ZANIS

KAIMBO Mumbulo, 32, a mother of Luampa district could not hold back tears as she narrated how her life and that of her new born baby were saved because Luampa Mission Hospital has adequate supply of electricity.
Ms Mumbulo’s baby was born prenatally and required to be kept in an incubator to survive.

“My baby was born prenatally at five months,” Ms Mumbulo explained in Lozi. “She needed to be placed in an incubator that provides warmth, just like in the womb. It is difficult for them [preemies] to survive without a stable source of power.”

Ms Mumbulo’s pre-term baby, who was in an incubator at the time of the interview, now has a greater chance to make it to adulthood, thanks to the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) for connecting this rural district to the national electricity grid.
Ms Mumbulo counts herself blessed that her baby was born at the time when the power project had been completed.
Before that, the mission hospital, which was built in 1963 and run by the Evangelical Church in Zambia, depended on a diesel generator for power supply. This means that power supply was erratic.
Luampa district health officer, Armstrong Mwepu, said the hospital had been using a generator since inception and that the duration of power supply was determined by the amount of fuel available. The generator would use 80 liters of diesel for eight hours.
However, there were machines that could not run on thermo power, and in such situations, patients would be transported to Lewanika General Hospital in Mongu, 152km away. Some of the patients died on the way due to delayed access to medical care.
Dr Mwepu said Luampa had been losing lives, especially those of mothers and premature babies because the mission hospital was unable to use oxygen machines and incubators, among other equipment due to the low supply of electricity.
“It was difficult to conduct emergency operations, especially during the night as we did not have a reliable source of power. We were compelled to transport our patients to another hospital. This was a problem because if the patient was not attended to on time, they would die,” he said.
In an effort to provide the best services to clients, hospital would provide thermo power through its 150kVA generator, but at great cost. The district administration was compelled to ration its electricity, supplying two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon so as not to put too much pressure on the hospital.
Seven years ago, Government through REA embarked on a project to construct a 66/33/11kV ground-mounted transformer that would supply electricity to Luampa. This came as a follow-up to the construction of an 11kV line under the 2010 rural electrification programme, which supplies power to other parts of Western Province.
And two weeks ago, Vice-President Inonge Wina commissioned the K20 million Luampa electricity supply substation and 22-kilometre grid extension line.
This was the first time since independence that the district, which has a population of over 45,000 was connected to the national grid, a development that has cheered the residents.
Mrs Wina noted that many lives had been lost in the district due to lack of reliable electricity at the mission hospital.
“Lack of electricity in Luampa affected service delivery, especially in the health sector. We lost many lives because medical personnel could not conduct emergency operations,” she said.
The Vice President said it was sad that many medical personnel and teachers had been working under frustrating conditions due to lack of power.
She commended traditional leaders for working with Government to ensure the project was completed successfully.
She said the extension grid demonstrates Government’s commitment to make rural areas viable and enable them to contribute to national development.
Mrs Wina urged Luampa residents to engage in economic activities using electricity to improve their income levels and contribute to national development.
She also advised them to grow cassava on a commercial scale to support the setting up of milling plants, thereby creating demand for power and helping sustain Zesco operations.
Mrs Wina said the project to connect Luampa to the national grid was a fulfillment of Government’s promise made years back.
Luampa was declared a district by former President Michael Sata and many residents were hopeful that their lives would change for the better as they would start enjoying benefits that come with the district status.
When he made the announcement, President Sata assured the people of Luampa that they would enjoy social services such as improved health and education, among others.
And REA chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda commended Government for entrusting the authority with the responsibility to ensure that rural areas are connected to the national electricity grid.
“I urge the community to guard the infrastructure jealously against vandalism because the investment that has gone into the projects is enormous,” he said.
Mr Musonda said the project will supply power to hospitals, Luampa constituency office, veterinary camps, and chief Mwanatete’s palace, and government staff houses among other areas.
Western Province minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu said the project demonstrates government’s commitment towards taking development to all parts of the country.
And Chief Mwanatete said although the project took long to complete, it was worth waiting for.
Chief Mwanatete said people will no longer need to move to urban areas in search of greener pastures because the district has the ability to transform people’s living standards.
He appealed to investors to take advantage of the development by investing in the district to unlock its potential.
Well, that is in the long-term. At this moment, the project is a life saver to the people of Luampa. Ms Mumbulo affirms this and says the power project has given life to a little soul. She says it with a smile, looking at her baby girl in the glass cubicle before walking back to her.

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