GlobalResolve and Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade bring modern health care and clean energy to Honduras

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April 11, 2019

With around $600 US dollars per capita income and more than 66% of the population living below the poverty line, Honduras is considered one of the least developed countries in Central America. Much of the Honduran economy is dependent on the small scale agricultural sector, so natural disasters such as the 1998 Hurricane Mitch, have particularly devastating impacts, especially for the population living in rural areas where access to electricity is often intermittent or non-existent and health services are limited. 

The Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade (Brigade), founded in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch severely devastated Honduras, has been providing disaster relief services and sustainable community development interventions aimed at improving health in Honduras. Every year the Brigade sends teams of professionals to Honduras to provide health services otherwise unavailable to the poor in rural areas.

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In an attempt to bring modern health services to a remote area of Honduras, the Brigade joined forces with the GlobalResolve initiative at Arizona State University to design, build and install a solar photovoltaic system for a small health clinic. The clinic is located in the remote village of Los Planes in the Southwest part of the country. Due to the lack of electricity and modern medical equipment, only very basic health services can be provided during daylight to the local population by two community health workers.  

The Brigade contacted two founding members of GlobalResolve - a Barrett Honors College service abroad program - ASU alumni Mark Kerrigan and Dr. Brad Rogers. With the gracious support of Mr. Kerrigan, the Brigade developed a partnership with Arizona State University’s Photovoltaic Reliability Laboratory (ASU-PRL) to design and develop a solar PV solution to electrify the health clinic in Los Planes in order to bring much needed modern medical services to this remote community in Honduras. The laboratory, under the leadership of Research Professor Dr. Govindasamy Tamizhmani, conducts applied research on the lifetime reliability of PV modules and inverters. In the last five years alone, ASU-PRL has generated more than 45 graduate and PhD students and published more than 60 papers in peer-reviewed conferences and journals.

Under the guidance of ASU-PRL’s project manager, Bülent Bicer, two students of ASU’s Professional Science Master’s (PSM) program successfully designed, developed and tested an off-grid solar PV system for the health clinic in Los Planes as part of their master’s thesis. “In close cooperation with the Brigade and stakeholders in Honduras, the first step was to remotely conduct site and solar assessments of the community, understand what lighting, medical and other appliances were to be installed and estimate the daily energy usage of those appliances”, said Mr. Bicer. “The usage of energy efficient appliances, potential growth, scalability and repeatability of the system as well as the active involvement of the local community from the beginning were important design and implementation principles to ensure a successful and long-term sustainability of the solution.”

 

Based on the available solar resources in Los Planes and the energy requirements for the various lighting, communications and medical appliances, such as a refrigerator and nebulizer, the team designed and built a complete off-grid solar PV system, consisting of a 2.6kW PV array, a 3kW inverter/controller unit, a 1,100 kAh battery bank and all supporting components, such as ground-mount racking, breakers and disconnects, wires and connectors. After the successful commissioning and testing of the whole system at ASU-PRL, all components were securely crated and shipped to the Brigade’s warehouse in Virginia. The team also developed a visual step-by-step installation and operations manual to ensure a seamless deployment and commissioning of the system in Los Planes. ASU-PRL generously donated the PV modules to this project. “This is an important initiative for the well-being of remote communities in Honduras which often do not have access to the electric grid and health services.” ASU-PRL’s director Dr. Tamizhmani said.

Los Planes is in a remote area of Honduras with only one road access. During the rainy season, transport to/from Los Planes can typically only be done with the help of mules. The shipment via sea from the Brigade’s warehouse in Virginia to Honduras typically takes between 4-8 weeks.  In October 2018 the system was successfully installed by a regional solar installation company that had also been part of the design and implementation phase of the project. The same company had already completed the electrical installation in the health clinic in preparation for the arrival of the solar PV system and medical equipment. “The first asthmatic child with acute severe shortness of breath received its first nebulizer treatment in the Planes clinic powered by solar panels from ASU. It's like a miracle! Our community health workers and villages are on "cloud 9," said Dr. Barry Byer, President of the Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade.

GlobalResolve is starting a new project based in this region of Honduras in Fall 2019, in collaboration with the ASU Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade. The project will be based in the GlobalResolve honors course with a faculty mentor and student project team working with the Medical Brigade in Comayagua on community health issues.

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