Energy – Health Nexus: Energy as an enabler of access to quality and safe healthcare

by Joanita Nyangoma, Energy Lab Lead at The Innovation Village

Universal health coverage and universal access to efficient modern energy services are both global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, unfortunately, have rarely been explored in tandem. As we celebrate World Health Day this month, we’re therefore reminded why powering healthcare is critical for the most vulnerable communities without energy access. We commemorate especially those health workers who have to work without reliable energy – they are the true heroes.  

Healthcare is an essential part of life that we ALL should be entitled to – and within our right to have access to, whenever needed. However, for many people all over the world, this is simply not even an option (Muslim Aid, 2017). Moreover, many health facilities today are still unable to provide quality healthcare services because of lack of reliable electricity, if at all. 

Energy access is a critical enabler of access to medical technologies and therefore availability of reliable sustainable energy solutions is vital to the delivery of said healthcare services for emergency night-time care lighting and child delivery, cold chain for vaccines, refrigeration of blood, sterilization facilities and other important health procedures. Without reliable electricity, many of these very basic life-saving interventions cannot be carried out safely or at all.

Reliable data on the current status of electricity access in health facilities is sparse. A recent analysis conducted by WHO found that on average, one in four health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa reported no access to electricity (Adair-Rohani, et al., 2013). Another study by (WHO & World Bank, 2014) shows that some developing countries like Uganda and Tanzania report that as many as 50% or more health facilities lack access to electricity, while only 28% of health facilities and 34% of hospitals had what could be called “reliable” access to electricity (without prolonged interruptions in the past week)  (Adair-Rohani, et al., 2013).  

Even when health facilities are connected to the grid, many suffer frequent power outages and power quality disturbances such as surges and frequency fluctuations which can damage or destroy medical devices (Porcaro, et al., 2017). The situation is bound to only get worse as the energy needs of the health sectors in these countries are expected to increase dramatically in the years to come. Case in point, given the current pandemic COVID-19 that has affected many Patients in need of urgent care are overflowing as healthcare professionals struggle to cope with the influx of patients, severe shortage of essential medical supplies and lack of reliable electricity which greatly hampers the provision of continual and timely medical services. 

The remarkable health improvements that can result from energy access and the use of reliable energy solutions should not be overlooked. It is therefore imperative that key decision-makers like governments, donors, and where possible, the private sector should better incorporate health considerations into the planning and implementation of energy investments. They should consider prioritizing the electrification of health facilities as a key development issue in order to improve the delivery of energy-dependent health services. 

Furthermore, continued sensitization about the inseparable links between the energy and health sectors is necessary so that there is increased emphasis on ensuring the needs of health facilities are met in a sustainable and long-lasting manner. Deployment of reliable and sustainable energy solutions should always account for the lifetime of the solution set and mechanisms should be set in place for appropriate long-term maintenance and parts replacement. Last but not least, the improving ability to provide certain diagnostic capabilities using cell phone applications and other mobile-enabled technology should be explored to help ensure the most effective utilization of limited power availability in the clinic setting (Porcaro, et al., 2017). 

References

Adair-Rohani, H., Zukor, K., Bonjour, S., Wilburn, S., Kuesel, A., Hebert, R., et al. (2013). Limited electricity access in health facilities of sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review of data on electricity access, sources, and reliability. Global Health: Science and Practice, 249-261.

Muslim Aid, M. C. (2017, May 31). The importance of Healthcare. Aleppo, Aleppo, Syria.

Porcaro, J., Mehta, S., Shupler, M., Kissel, S., Pfeiffer, M., Franciso, C., et al. (2017). Modern Energy Access and Health. Washington DC: The World Bank.

WHO, & World Bank, T. (2014). Access to Modern Energy Services for Health Facilities in Resource-Constrained Settings. Geneva: World Health Organisation.

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