Geneva: Access to electricity is critical for quality healthcare provision, from delivering babies to managing emergencies like heart attacks, or offering lifesaving immunization. However, nearly a billion people in low- and lower-middle-income countries – 1 in 8 of the world’s population –are served by healthcare facilities that lack a reliable electricity supply, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll).
In South Asia and sub-Saharan African countries, more than 1 in 10 health facilities lack any electricity access whatsoever, the joint report, Energizing Health: Accelerating Electricity Access in Health-Care Facilities, finds, while power is unreliable for a full half of facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. To put this in perspective, this is close to the entire populations of the United States, Indonesia, Pakistan and Germany combined.
Electricity is needed to power the most basic devices – from lights and communications equipment to refrigeration, or devices that measure vital signs like heartbeat and blood pressure – and is critical for both routine and emergency procedures. When health-care facilities have access to reliable sources of energy, critical medical equipment can be powered and sterilized, clinics can preserve lifesaving vaccines, and health workers can carry out essential surgeries or deliver babies as planned.
Without reliable electricity in all healthcare facilities, Universal Health Coverage cannot be reached, the joint report, Energizing Health: Accelerating Electricity Access in Healthcare Facilities, notes. It states that electricity access is a major enabler of Universal Health Coverage, and so electrification of healthcare facilities must be considered an utmost development priority requiring greater support and investments from governments, development partners and financing and development organizations.
Disparities in electricity access within countries are stark, the report points out. Primary healthcare centres and rural health facilities are considerably less likely to have electricity access than hospitals and facilities in urban areas. Understanding such disparities is key to identifying where actions are most urgently needed, and prioritizing the allocation of resources where they will save lives.
According to a World Bank needs analysis included in the report, almost two-thirds (64%) of healthcare facilities in low and middle-income countries require some form of urgent intervention – for instance, either a new electricity connection or a backup power system – and some US$ 4.9 billion is urgently needed to bring them to a minimal standard of electrification.
“Electricity access in healthcare facilities can make the difference between life and death,” said Dr Maria Neira, Assistant Director-General a.i, for Healthier Populations at WHO. “Investing in reliable, clean and sustainable energy for healthcare facilities is not only crucial to pandemic preparedness, it’s also much needed to achieve universal health coverage, as well as increasing climate resilience and adaptation,” she added.
Although there has been some progress in recent years on the electrification of healthcare facilities, approximately 1 billion people worldwide are served by healthcare facilities without a reliable electricity supply, or no electricity at all.
The report presents the latest data on the electrification of healthcare facilities in low- and middle-income countries. It also projects investments required to achieve adequate and reliable electrification in health care.
No need to ‘wait for the grid’
Decentralized sustainable energy solutions, for example, based on solar photovoltaics systems, are not only cost-effective and clean but also rapidly deployable on-site, without the need to wait for the arrival of the central grid. Solutions are readily available, and the impact on public health would be huge.
Additionally, healthcare systems and facilities are increasingly affected by the accelerating impacts of climate change. Building climate-resilient healthcare systems means building facilities and services that can meet the challenges of a changing climate, such as extreme weather events while improving environmental sustainability.
– global bihari bureau