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Staff housing for health

28.03.2021

Remote health care centres in Africa are not the most attractive working locations, even for local professionals and their families. Jobs often remain unfilled if appropriate housing options are lacking. Therefore, since 2013, SolidarMed has successfully got involved in the construction and operation of simple staff housing facilities in Zambia.

Registered nurse Otrine Dhlodhlo Haakonde with her son Ethan in front of her SolidarMed-built house in Mpanshya.

Staff housing saves lives

There is a critical shortage of health personnel in every country in Southern Africa, especially in rural areas. Provision of basic health care suffers as a result. Targeted incentives and strategies to attract good health care personnel to rural areas are needed to tackle this problem. A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) mentions, for example, governmental performance bonuses for jobs at remote health care centres as well as training bursaries. However, the availability of housing is a decisive factor for many health care professionals for a job in a rural area. Three of four health care professionals polled would even prefer a rural position to one in the city if there were reasonable housing available.

Sustainable building for health

In 2011, SolidarMed founded the SolidarInvest housing collective as part of the “Sustainable Housing for Health” project in Zambia. In addition to existing health care facilities in rural regions, it will build staff houses while offering training options for local young people in construction. SolidarMed intends to use this to create incentives for health care personnel in rural areas in order to assure health care provision. SolidarMed also renovates existing staff houses belonging to the health care facilities and integrates them in the portfolio of SolidarMed's own houses. The health care personnel are hired by the authorities. The rent for the houses is deducted directly from the wages of the health care personnel and paid to SolidarInvest. The proceeds are invested in maintenance and the surplus used for newly upgraded housing and hospital expansion projects. Sustainable and ecological construction on site is an important principle here. During the first phase from 2013 to 2014, 10 houses were built. Other houses were added with each new phase and over the years. There are currently 87 staff houses. SolidarMed will have built 106 staff houses by the end of 2021. If resources are available to renovate already existing houses thanks to cost savings, this figure could increase to 112 houses.

Existing staff house at the SolidarMed construction site in Mpanshya, Zambia.

Opportunity for young professionals

As the developer and operator of the houses, SolidarMed makes great efforts in direct partnership with the Ministry of Health to continuously improve the housing situation for health care personnel. Designing the houses more cost-effectively and more CO2-neutral is one step in the process. Initially, the project used bricks and cement blocks which required a lot of resources to manufacture and were rather harmful to the environment. For two years now, the houses have been built from blocks manufactured right at the construction site. Dirt is mixed with cement and shaped into blocks in a special “Makiga” machine. They then dry under cover for a week. Compared to cement blocks or bricks, these pressed dirt blocks give off eight times less CO2 and require ten to fifteen times less energy. With regard to surface design as well, SolidarMed looked for new possibilities and switched over from tile flooring to mainly cement floors. Thanks to these cost savings, additional houses could be built. New jobs were also created through the construction of the blocks on site. Thus, 144 people from the surrounding communities collaborated in the production of thousands of blocks. Many then went on to find jobs with local construction companies. SolidarMed also introduced a vocational training programme for a total of 24 young professionals as part of the block production. In this programme, the students are taught by one trainer per district. The diploma they receive after completing their training opens up good possibilities for a job in the construction trade.

Read more about this project and other construction projects in other partner countries in our Focus magazine (issue 21/2).