“If the power goes off, I may as well go home because I cannot do my job, said Dr ‘Ana ‘Akau‘ola, the Acting Superintendent and only Radiologist at Vaiola Hospital in Nuku'alofa, on July 13.
The Asian Development Bank reported in an article that when Cyclone Harold hit Tonga in April, Dr 'Akau'ola was relieved when the hospital lost power for just one day and not for weeks, as was the case for previous cyclones.
The fast recovery was a result of ADB’s ongoing support of Tonga Power Limited (TPL) to help enhance the climate resiliency of power lines, underground cables and electricity poles and improve the lives of Tongan people.
Since Tonga closed its borders to the world, Dr 'Akau'ola has been overseeing hospital operations, with much of her work focused on the preparation for COVID-19.
“This has been ongoing since the beginning of the year. We are extremely lucky there are no cases here, but we are prepared,” she said.
“Everything we do in radiology needs electricity from the computers I use to read my x-rays, the ultrasound machines, CT scans and the mammograms we perform.
"Imagine what it is like if you are a hospital patient who relies on a ventilator to breathe and the power cuts out, or you are a surgeon and there is a power surge mid-way through an operation. Power cuts are life-threatening in those situations and generators can often take some time to start,” she said.
“Unreliable power takes us back to what medicine was like 30 plus years ago when we only had our knowledge, a stethoscope, and our hands as tools to make diagnoses. These days we rely on electricity to power the machines we use to accurately diagnose patients sooner."
Dr 'Akau'ola also noticed a big difference with the electricity supply lately especially since Tonga Power Ltd, ADB, and other partners have built up the resilience of Tonga’s power infrastructure.
“It is clear the upgrading work that was conducted between Cyclone Gita in 2018 and Cyclone Harold in early 2020, has really paid off and made the power lines and the grid more resilient to disasters.
"Minimal disruption and minimal stress for all of us at the hospital. I have also noticed that since the upgrading work was done, we have had far fewer power surges. TPL have improved their communications with the hospital. If they need to temporarily turn off the power while they undergo upgrading or maintenance work, they give us plenty of notice so we can plan for it."
Cyclone Ian in 2014 and Cyclone Gita in 2018 had both caused immense damage to livelihoods and infrastructure, including the power supply.
Tonga is among the most vulnerable countries in the world to natural disasters.
Above: Dr 'Ana 'Akau'ola. Photo:ADB (Source: Matangi Tonga Online)