Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (University Hospital) in Haiti was born out of fruitful global partnerships and has subsequently become the largest solar powered hospital in the world.
This hospital is more than a public facility. It is a beacon of hope in a country ravaged by large scale poverty, and the aftermath of a cruelly devastating earthquake in 2010.
Conceived in the critical times that followed the calamity 3 years ago as a revamp of an existing community project, the Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (University Hospital) is located 30 miles north of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. It stands as a symbol of not just medical efficiency, but of determination, succeeded as it has where similar projects have failed to take off, or be fully realised.
Inaugurated in November 2012, and functional since early 2013, the hospital occupies an area of about 205,000 sq. ft. and has a 300-bed capacity. Its 30 outpatient consultation rooms and 6 operating rooms can take in up to 500 patients a day.
In electricity starved Haiti, however, this project’s green credentials take precedence in pride. The hospital’s roof is the lounging pad of 1800 solar panels (supplied by Germany-based solar power experts, Solon), which during peak daylight hours produce more than 100% of the energy needs of the hospital. The excess energy is then routed to an inverter produced by Massachusetts-based Solectria Renewables, and from there on to the national grid for more general usage.
The panel structure produced 139 megawatt hours of electricity even before the hospital’s opening, heralding a landmark in the country’s energy production. The panels’ efficiency is improved by a coat of white paint, which greatly reduces the chances of cindering under the scorching Haitian sun, and ups the efficiency of reflected sunrays by 15%.
The panels are also placed at an elevation of a foot from the roof, further protecting them from natural over-heating. University of Oregon provided sun charts to best position the solar panels under the sometimes testy sun conditions, while technicians from Boston-based Sullivan & McLaughlin Companies specially trained some hospital staff members to run and maintain this apparatus to the best possible extent.
The interiors of the hospital are lit by high-efficiency fluorescent light fixtures that function through motion sensors, ensuring a 60% cut in energy consumption. Natural ventilation ensures influx of fresh and cool air at all times, and keeps the interiors clean and sterile, an essential requirement for the hospital.
The University Hospital’s inspired green apparatus will save 210 metric tons of carbon emissions, and the solar energy arrangement will slice off $3,79,000 from the hospital’s operating budget every year.
In the multiple points of achievements that can be ascribed to this hospital, one of the most critical is the community development cycle that it sets into motion. The University Hospital will create 800 local job opportunities. With its ground-breaking medical and sustainability model, it is expected to attract more commercial activity in its neighbourhood, and hopefully beyond. With the influx of patients, students and other citizens, local businesses of all scale can expect a rare shot in the arm.
Another social function that the University Hospital has proudly taken on is the training of future Haitian medical professionals. The hospital’s second floor will facilitate the education of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. This will be augmented by high-speed Internet and video-conferencing capabilities, which will link the students to classrooms of American medical schools.
Though it will be governed by the Ministry of Health, and was built by a Partners In Health, and Zanmi Lasante collaboration, University Hospital came into being because of the collective donation and action of a long list of contributors that includes the American Red Cross, the GE Foundation, the Artists for Haiti collective, Hewlett-Packard Company, and Harvard Medical School.
From the conception point to the technical minutiae to the teaching calibre of the hospital, dedicated partners made sure top-notch inputs and finances were involved at every step.
The result is that the University Hospital is the largest solar-powered hospital in the world! It is also the first public hospital in Haiti to have a CT scanner. Jim Ansara, University Hospital’s director of design and construction, encapsulated the ambition of the project by saying, “At each step of the way, we were attempting things that had never been done in Haiti before.”
Throughout the hospital compound, one can sense the quiet determination with which it was built. The form and shape of the building is clean-cut and frill-free, with an all pervasive re-assurance of warm, efficient service. The primarily white tone enhances its aura of single-minded devotion to medical excellence.
The University Hospital in Haiti stands testimony to the power of global collaborations in solving local problems. Through highly specific and sensitive partnerships, this hospital has ensured better medical facilities for Haitians, set an example for the entire world, and, in the words of Partners In Health co-founder Paul Farmer, inspired the “culmination of a dream dating back a quarter-century.”
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Courtesy Partners In Health