USAID/Power Africa Strengthens Maternal and Child Health Services in Sub-Saharan Africa with $363,607 in Solar Energy Grants

Power Africa
6 min readOct 18, 2021
Women and babies waiting in a line outside a clinic.
USAID/Power Africa’s $363,607 Maternal and Child Health grant program follows an investment of $2,620,650 in health facility electrification grants in 2020. Photo Credit: OnePower Lesotho

Power Africa, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), announces two grants totaling $363,607 to electrify seven healthcare facilities that provide maternal and child health services in Malawi and Uganda. This grant program is dedicated to the memory of USAID Foreign Service Officer Madeline C. Williams from the Great State of Minnesota. In her 28 years of distinguished service at USAID, Madeline devoted herself to improving the lives of underserved communities.

In 2017, almost 99% of global maternal deaths were in low- and middle-income countries, with 67% of these deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa [1]. This region has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world, with one in 13 children dying before their fifth birthday [2]. Many of these deaths can be prevented with adequate health infrastructure, such as lighting and medical equipment, that facilitates improved obstetrics and child healthcare delivery [3]. Maternal and child health are linked: When a mother dies during childbirth, the newborn has only a 19% chance of surviving beyond a month [4]. With COVID-19 emergency responses diverting resources from other health services [5], even from maternity wards [6], the need for quality healthcare is now all the more pressing [7]. Off-grid solar technology can help to alleviate this demand — particularly in areas beyond the reach of electricity grids. By electrifying and upgrading healthcare facilities that offer maternal and child health (MCH) services, solar energy solutions will help to enhance the wellbeing of mothers and children, particularly those in rural locations which are home to 60% of people in sub-Saharan Africa [8].

USAID/Power Africa’s $363,607 MCH grant program follows an investment of $2,620,650 in health facility electrification grants in 2020, which enabled nine sub-Saharan African solar energy companies to electrify more than 200 healthcare facilities across the region to date, with additional facilities expected to be electrified before the end of 2021.

A solar installation at a remote clinic in Lesotho.
A solar installation at one of more than 200 healthcare facilities across sub-Saharan Africa that will be electrified thanks to a USAID/Power Africa grant. Photo Credit: Power Africa/Justice Kalebe

This latest round of grants focuses on electrifying off-grid and weak-grid maternity wards and healthcare facilities offering MCH services. Power Africa is mobilizing solar energy companies that understand local communities’ needs, commit to a long-term business plan, and can implement off-grid technologies innovatively to improve the wellbeing of mothers, children, and healthcare workers.

Power Africa is particularly interested in ensuring that facilities have reliable and clean electricity to improve health services for women and children. By sustainably electrifying clinics, this grant program aims to support increased access to antenatal care and routine immunization, improve diagnostic services for children and pregnant women, and expand hours of service delivery which is especially crucial for after-dark emergency care and childbirth.

The winners of this $363,607 grant window are two established African renewable energy companies: The Malawian-owned International Power Control Systems (IPCS) headquartered in Blantyre, and SustainSolar headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa. Both organizations are experienced in installing solar-powered systems in remote settings and work with a range of customers and system sizes. Out of 67 applications and after a five-month vetting process, these grantees’ solutions stood out for their focus on maternal and child health, emphasis on sustainable business models, and strong local partnerships.

IPCS has extensive expertise in renewable energy installations. The company will partner with Zhyphen to provide two health facilities in Malawi that include maternity wards with reliable renewable energy.

The clinic and community hospital to be electrified by IPCS facilitate more than 2,000 births and serve more than 6,800 pregnant women and 6,400 children younger than five annually.

IPCS’s solution combines solar panels with plug-and-play battery storage through Zhyphen’s modular “Instant Grid” system, which can be scaled by installing solar panels and batteries in the future. The company’s sustainable business model includes a solar device-charging station at each facility, and the revenue generated will be used to maintain and operate the systems.

SustainSolar, which designs and manufactures its solar systems in South Africa, will partner with Equatorial Power to electrify five health centers on the islands of Namayingo District in eastern Uganda.

The five chosen health centers help to deliver more than 1,600 newborns and serve more than 8,000 pregnant women and 10,000 children younger than five annually.

SustainSolar will power the health centers with its container-based solution called SustainBox. Equatorial Power — an off-grid energy company headquartered in Uganda, where it is implementing several solar-powered projects — will install and maintain the systems and will supply incubators for newborns and autoclave sterilizers. SustainSolar and Equatorial Power’s business model charges a fixed fee to the healthcare facilities, while revenue from a water distribution center and device-charging services at each facility will subsidize the systems’ operation and maintenance.

Power Africa dedicates this MCH grant program to Madeline C. Williams, who was serving as the Program Office Director for Power Africa when she passed away unexpectedly in April this year [9]. In this role, Madeline worked to bring electricity to millions of people. In her 28 years with USAID, Madeline was known as a dedicated leader and mentor, as well as a passionate advocate for democracy and diversity. For Jorge Delgado, her spouse, this initiative commemorates Madeline’s work in electrifying sub-Saharan Africa and her role as a dedicated mother of three children.

“Madeline would be pleased to see these grants help mothers and children,” he said. “As a mother and wife, she understood how important obstetric care is to individual women, as much as it is to social development.”

Grantees will install plaques in Madeline’s honor and memory at the health facilities electrified under this program.

Plaque to be installed in Madeline C. Williams’s honor

This grant window is administered by the USAID-funded Power Africa Off-grid Project in support of Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid initiative, which contributes to the goal of adding at least 30,000 megawatts (MW) of cleaner and more reliable electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.

[1] “Number of Maternal Deaths — World,” World Bank, 2017, accessed July 7, 2021,

[2] “National Trends — Under-five Mortality Rate,” UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, 2019, accessed July 7, 2021,

[3] “Maternal Health,” WHO Regional Office for Africa, 2021, accessed July 6, 2021,

[4] “Maternal and Child Health,” USAID, October 22, 2020, accessed July 6, 2021,

[5] “Maternal and Newborn Health and Covid-19,” UNICEF, 2020, accessed July 6, 2021,

[6] Cynthia Khamala Wangamati and Johanne Sundby, “The Ramifications of COVID-19 on Maternal Health in Kenya,” Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters 28, no. 1 (January 1, 2020): 1804716,

[7] Rachel Wangari Kimani, Rose Maina, Constance Shumba and Sheila Shumba, “Maternal and Newborn Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Kenya: Re-Contextualising the Community Midwifery Model,” Human Resources for Health 18, no. 1 (October 7, 2020): 75,

[8] “Rural Population (% of Total Population) — Sub-Saharan Africa,” World Bank, 2018, accessed July 6, 2021,

[9] Gloria Steele, “Death of Foreign Service Officer Madeline Williams,” USAID, April 9, 2021, accessed July 7, 2021,



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A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 >