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Smiling Through Light

Smiling Through Light

Solar Power Energy Can Save Lives During The Coronavirus Pandemic

  • Studies have linked high air pollution exposure to severe outcomes in infectious disease outbreaks
  • Smiling Through Light is urging the government of Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Energy, and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to take stronger action on increasing solar power access to help prevent respiratory health issues through repeated exposure to pollutants

Thursday 21st May 2020 – Smiling Through Light, a social enterprise which focuses on selling affordable solar energy products, says that switching to Solar Power in Sierra Leone is more imperative than ever during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Smiling Through Light is calling on the government of Sierra Leone to support renewable energy startups, as they are providing an essential service in the country, and combating the health issues associated with fuels.

COVID-19 is causing unprecedented disruptions around the world, with health care systems struggling and billions of people relying on electricity while confined in their homes. The pandemic is now spreading across Africa, home to the majority of those who live without electricity. To avoid the worst impact and help contain the virus worldwide, we must act now to deploy solutions that can provide life-saving energy access to those who need it most. 

According to SEforAll, in 2016, only 20.3% of Sierra Leoneans have access to electricity. For many this means turning to different sources such as kerosene, battery powered lamps and chinese lamps. With many Sierra Leoneans not connected to the national grid, solar power is an efficient and reliable substitute that does not rely on a central system. 

Kerosene lamps are often used for light in Sierra Leone. Some kerosene lamps emit fine particulates, carbon monoxide, nitric oxides, and sulfur dioxide when burned. These by-products cause home air pollution. Fuels such as kerosene, which is often used to light lamps have been associated with a range of health effects, with exposure leading to some illnesses that would make individuals vulnerable to the effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and tuberculosis in addition to acute respiratory infection, influenza and pneumonia-related deaths. A sufferer of one of these underlying conditions, after repeated exposure to pollutants is more likely to die than someone in good health if they test positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Studies have also linked high air pollution exposure to severe outcomes in other infectious disease outbreaks. This daily exposure means many more Sierra Leoneans are more at risk than most people believe. Harvard University researchers found that increases in particle pollution levels in the years before the pandemic were associated with an 8 per cent rise in death rates in the US; stating that their results “underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis”.

There are other benefits of switching to solar energy. Due to the affordability, families are able to reduce the cost of living day to day; their money can last longer during the pandemic as the one off cost would have already been paid. They can focus their resources on food, and other essential supplies. Using solar energy does not require citizens to go out, which is being discouraged by the Government of Sierra Leone. Health workers will also be able to provide care for patients because of how reliable solar power is during this critical time, it is very important that care is not hindered by unreliable energy sources.

For strategies to reduce health and environment impacts, The World Health Organisation recommends:

  • “Shifting from solid fuels to cleaner energy technologies – can potentially yield the largest reduction in indoor air pollution levels while minimizing environmental impacts of energy production and consumption in general.
  • Public awareness of the health risks of indoor air pollution is also an important factor in change.”

Mariama Kamara, Founder & Director of Smiling Through Light said: “Sierra Leone has now reached almost 600 cases of COVID-19, across various districts. We know already that there is an issue with energy access, and we believe that solutions people find for energy access are actually detrimental to their health, making them more likely to develop fatal symptoms related to COVID-19. The government needs to take more action to help people understand the risks at this time.”

Energy access saves lives. We can keep ventilators on. We can protect vulnerable populations. But we must act now. Solutions are available, and we need to seize them during this time of global crisis. 

Information about Smiling Through Light:

Smiling Through Light focuses on clean energy access. We work with a network of local women to provide clean, reliable and sustainable energy in Sierra Leone through the distribution and sale of solar products, focusing on the last mile. By setting up distribution networks and supporting small female-run businesses, the organisation helps communities access safe, clean light technology, whilst simultaneously creating employment and income opportunities. The profits of the company are reinvested in the social enterprise: buying more solar products, providing capacity building training and ongoing support to the women.


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