our field workers
In Hong Kong, hospitals are equipped with excellent electricity systems. There is always sufficient back-up power. In Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, however, a hospital may rely just on its three local generators for all its electricity supply. Vincent and his team of national staff were responsible for ensuring that the supply was stable.
Vincent Li Yiu Fai, an engineer, went to Sierra Leone twice with MSF missions in 2018 and 2019.
“The power system here is a matter of life and death. While the healthcare professionals were saving lives on the frontline, as an engineer, I hoped to keep them from worrying about whether the technical aspect of the respirators. Our job was to do our best to support them and ensure that they could concentrate on their work without any worries,“ Vincent said.
Vincent was mainly responsible for leading the local electricians in setting up an electric power system for a teaching hospital that was being constructed. In 2014, Sierra Leone was severely impacted by the Ebola epidemic, which led to the death of 7% of healthcare workers in the whole country. MSF built a teaching hospital in Kenema, the epicentre of the Ebola epidemic, to provide medical training to rebuild the local medical team.
With the shortage of resources and support, maintaining electricity supply became a huge challenge. As the weather in Sierra Leone is extremely hot, air-conditioning had to be installed in pharmaceutical warehouses. However, the air conditioners were defective. When Vincent switched one on, the three power generators ceased functioning, and the whole hospital ran out of electricity in an instant.
“Lack of air conditioning could allow the medicines in the pharmaceutical warehouse, to deteriorate but the whole hospital would be out of electricity if we switched on the air conditioners. This dilemma brought us immense pressure. We pondered about the problem even during meals and rest.” Since they were far from any urban area, they were not able to get any specialist help and had to solve all their own problems. After a series of tests and research, the team found out that there had been a mistake in the parameter setting of the generators, and they finally found a solution.
Construction of the hospital was not an easy task, but having witnessed the improvement over time, Vincent felt satisfied. In 2018, when Vincent worked on the first stage of construction, the hospital had not started operating. In 2019, however, when he returned there for some expansion projects, he could see that some of the facilities were now in service. “Having seen many healthcare workers and patients benefiting from the facilities, I feel glad that I have been part of the project.”
Hangha Hospital in Kenema started operating in March 2019. Today there are 98 hospital beds in service, including those in the Inpatient Therapeutic Feeding Center, isolation ward, paediatric ward and intensive care unit. The obstetric ward and postnatal ward are expected to be finished in 2021-2022. Even more patients will then be benefiting from it.