Burundi: History


Expanding on our partnership with Partners In Health (PIH), in May 2009 SELF installed a 10kW solar electric generating system for the electrification of the new Village Health Works (VHW) clinic in the remote village of Kigutu, in southern Burundi. With the help of solar panels donated by Cermet Materials and Ersol, and generous contributions from our supporters, doctors and staff now have the vital electricity they need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to treat thousands of patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.


Burundi is a country of both great beauty and great tragedy. Landlocked between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania, and ranked the globe’s poorest country by the World Bank, 68% of its population live below the poverty line. Half of its children do not attend school.

By all measures, Burundi has a public health crisis. The infant mortality rate approaches 20 percent, and malnutrition, diarrhea and pneumonia — along with measles, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis — assail children and adults alike. Two percent of the adult population lives with HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy is a meager 49 years.

Burundi has 8 million people, but, according to a 2005 survey, only 156 physicians working in its public hospitals. The southern part of the country has especially acute health care needs: in the village of Kigutu, for example, about 90 kilometers from the capital, Bujumbura, the closest hospital is a 14-mile walk. Most people in Kigutu are subsistence farmers — even when able to find transportation they are often unable to afford necessary treatment.


VHW is striving to improve the health care infrastructure of rural Burundi. By teaming with PIH, VHW hopes to leverage the vast experience and network of resources built by Dr. Paul Farmer, celebrated “physician to the poor,” whose accomplishments are documented in the bestseller, Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Under the leadership of its founder, VHW recently built a new health care center in Kigutu, with both in-patient and out-patient facilities. The center will serve 60,000 people in the surrounding area.

Kigutu lacks electricity, vital for lighting and much medical equipment, including vaccine refrigerators. The long-term success of the health care center will require implementation of a sustainable, reliable power source. Grid connection is not an option given Kigutu’s geographic isolation.


To determine the appropriate system for the new health clinic, SELF visited the site in January 2008, and learned as much as possible from the staff about the current and future plans of VHW. SELF looked at the daily energy consumption, as well as the probable increases by July of 2009 and July of 2010. With this information, SELF determined that a solar-diesel hybrid system, an electrical energy system based on batteries for storage, is the best solution.

SELF engineers developed a 10kW solar electric system that provides over 90% of the power for the site. This system is sized so that most of the charging is done by the sun, while also providing a diesel generator back-up in the event of a prolonged overcast or in the event of any other unusual situations arising. Hybridizing the system will minimize costs – especially in the context of steadily escalating diesel expense. SELF was also able to reduce long-term maintenance costs for the clinic by installing a state of the art monitoring system allowing remote technicians to monitor performance via the Internet. Together these systems will supply vital electricity 24/7 to ensure physicians and staff can provide quality care for the thousands of patients they serve.

SELF’s solar installation meets the immediate and near-term needs of the Kigutu clinic. As they expand their services and add equipment, however, the clinic will need to add more solar modules to supply additional power.

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