Eighteen-year-old Sandra Adyeero rummages through her belongings as she weeps silently outside the maternity ward unit at Gulu regional referral hospital.
Adyeero delivered a premature baby last Monday after being pregnant for six months. Her baby was put in an incubator until Tuesday when power went off.
The incubator also went off and off went Adyeero’s baby girl.
“It has happened; she has died and I can’t do anything about it,” Adyeero says, wiping her tears as she mutters other things to herself.
Adyeero and her nameless baby are some of the latest victims of irregular power supply in Gulu district. For nearly a month now, Gulu has been in a virtual blackout, with frequent power cuts. The neonatal unit at Gulu hospital has been relying on the solar inverters for lighting, but they are not strong enough to run the incubators.
The big generator that used to power the facility has been faulty since October. Today, only two small generators are working, supplying the orthopedic and eye units.
Adyeero’s baby could not survive. Christine Akumu, in charge of the neonatal unit, blamed the baby’s death on the power cuts.
“At first the baby’s temperature was fine. When power went off, we hoped that the baby would be resilient enough but sadly she couldn’t make it,” Akumu told The Observer last Wednesday.
According to a health worker at the hospital who preferred anonymity, many patients with serious complications that require surgery and mothers who might undergo caesarean section are referred to St Mary’s hospital Lacor.
Evelyn Acen, an enrolled midwife, says due to power shortages, some babies suffering from jaundice are being treated by traditional methods, such as exposing them to sun rays.
Gulu hospital administrator, Stephen Agambwa, noted that the power outage has affected the quality of service delivery at the facility, adding that buying fuel to run the generators was also costly. Every after two days, the hospital needs at least Shs 70,000 for fuel to run the two generators.
Last Tuesday afternoon, a section of leaders in Gulu tried to demonstrate over the persistent power outages, only to be calmed by the police led by district police commander Martin Okoyo.
At Gulu main market, hundreds of enraged vendors gathered to march on the offices of power distributor, Umeme, but were stopped by their chairman, Patrick Omaya, and local leaders. But while protecting Umeme staff, leaders are demanding answers.
“When the month ends, you [Umeme] are very quick to demand money and yet the kinds of services you are offering are so frustrating especially for people who rely on power to work,” said Gulu LC-V chairman Martin Ojara Mapenduzi
Tom Awuzu, the Umeme district manager, blamed the current situation on the rampant bush burning which he says weakens the base of the electric poles thus being vulnerable to falling down due to storm and strong winds.
“I appeal to everyone to understand that the problem is being instigated by some people who engage in burning bushes because they are after hunting edible rats and this ends with vandalizing of our material”, he said.
According to Umeme commercial officer Wilson Egesa, Gulu has one line and it is supplied by Lira district which has a substation. It can take Umeme up to three weeks to repair vandalized poles.
THE OBSERVERProtests as power cuts kill Gulu baby
Poor infrastructure contributes to unemployment & poverty - #Uganda