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Zambia's national health laboratory system has a new energy management specialist. Zambia's national health laboratory system has a new energy management specialist.

Zambia Lab Specialist Receives Training from IHFI

Health laboratories in Zambia can benefit from increased oversight of their energy systems. IHFI is supporting the new laboratory energy manager for the country's health system as he takes on the challenge.

 In Zambia, health laboratories play a central role in enhancing the country's ability to provide quality health care and combat the spread of HIV and other diseases. An important challenge in this work is to ensure reliable and high quality electricity to power laboratories, examination rooms and patient records management.

In early 2009, an energy team from USAID carried out an overall assessment of the quality of energy services in Zambian health facilities. In August 2010, an energy expert from the USAID-funded Improving Health Facility Infrastructure (IHFI) project visited 5 hospitals (two in Lusaka and three in the copperbelt region), identified as key facilities by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) office in Zambia. Working with the Zambian Ministry of Health, these visits resulted in the identification of critical needs for improved backup power, attention to management of electrical loads, and implementation of improved maintenance practices, along with a recommended position description for an energy systems engineer to serve these needs in multiple health facilities.

A joint project between the CDC and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), which has been focused for years on developing Zambia's health labs, took IHFI's recommendations to heart and began the search to hire an energy specialist. Earlier this year Edward Mwansa, an experienced Zambian electrical engineer, was given the responsibility of overseeing backup energy systems for Zambia's labs, filling a critical gap in laboratory enerty management. APHL is supporting Mr. Mwansa as part of an effort to prepare Zambia's health labs for accreditation under the World Health Organization (WHO).

Laboratory energy management is an important factor in the Ministry of Health's efforts to achieve WHO lab accreditation. While the labs in Zambia have reasonably dependable power and some of the necessary back-up power equipment, these systems need updating, repair, improvement, and most importantly, continual oversight. Mr. Mwansa's responsibility will be to monitor electrical loads, install and maintain equipment and manage all the laboratory energy systems for key Zambian hospitals.

APHL requested IHFI support in helping prepare Mr. Mwansa for his challenging assignment. IHFI provided measurement protocols, and general information on operating and maintaining backup power technologies. In April 2012, taking advantage of Mr. Mwansa's visit to attend meetings in Washington, DC, IHFI prepared a short training session on laboratory energy systems. The two-day session paired Mr. Mwansa one-on-one with Arturo Romero, an IHFI engineer with over 30 years of experience in energy systems design and maintenance. The training included: assessing loads and measuring power quality; sizing and maintaining generators, uninterruptible power systems (UPS) and other backup power equipment; measuring and logging system performance; and other energy management topics. IHFI also provided two electrical parameter loggers that Mr. Mwansa can use to analyze trends in electrical loads and other electrical parameters over time.

The training also emphasized record keeping and organizational practices that are essential to effectively supervising diverse sets of equipment across multiple labs. "Monitoring the electrical systems will allow 'energy quality' to be correctly assessed and will provide a basis for decision making when purchasing back-up systems for Zambia's laboratories and designing strategies to upgrade and update the electrical installations at every site.", said IHFI engineer Romero of the importance of system documentation. Mr. Mwansa's training also benefited from practical experiences in laboratory energy management from other IHFI projects in Haiti and Mozambique, where proper performance and maintenance logging have been critical to the success of back-up power upgrades.

Ultimately, laboratory energy management contributes to establishing an efficient, trustworthy and successful health system for Zambia. Laboratory accreditation builds confidence among the public and the international community, founded on a stable and long-term lab infrastructure, including energy supply. As Edward Mwansa works to bolster that foundation he will likely face many difficulties in building robust energy systems with limited resources. Arturo Romero understands that this is a difficult balance, saying, "For Edward, the biggest challenge will be to appropriately diagnose the back-up power needs for each laboratory and determine the most efficient and cost effective solution in order to ensure the highest reliability of the power systems."

Although Mr. Mwansa and Zambia's health lab system have a long road ahead, the IHFI project has committed its continued support. IHFI will remain in close contact with Mr. Mwansa as he develops a management regime and will help to monitor monthly reports and implementation plans while providing specific technical support when necessary. This guidance too, will play a role in enhancing healthcare in Zambia.

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