Energy for Good – Episode 2
Energy for Health
Welcome back to the #Energy4Good long read series!
Last week we found out how energy is an enabler for achieving access to quality education everywhere, for every child and every student. Today we walk you through how energy is essential for another basic human right, something equally essential for human development: health. People in developing countries, in fact, face all sorts of obstacles to access healthcare. Not only health centres, hospitals and clinics are far scarcer and harder to reach, they also struggle with insufficient, absent or unreliable energy provision, which severely hampers their capacity to deliver quality health services. According to WHO, in fact, in 2014 only 28% of health facilities and 34% of hospitals had what could be called “reliable” access to electricity (i.e., without prolonged interruptions in the past week).
IRENA estimates that up to 1 billion people around the world rely on healthcare facilities without electricity supply, which is confirmed by the staggering numbers highlighted by a 2018 study, which analysed 121,000 health facilities, in 46 low and middle-income countries, finding that almost 60% of them lacked access to reliable electricity.
Once again the comparison between global north and global south shows us how the things we give for granted are actually very rare and hard to get in developing countries. Imagine walking for miles, or even more, to get your child vaccinated, only to find out that – due to a power shortage – the refrigerator malfunctioned and so many life-saving medicines had to be thrown away. Try to picture how it must feel for a young mother to give birth to a premature child, and be told that there is not enough energy to power the incubator that might save their life.
In addition, now more than ever in recent history we all find ourselves painfully aware of the importance of efficient healthcare systems. Energy is, in fact, a key ally in the fight against COVID-19, particularly where vaccination rates are very low, as is the case in underserved developing countries (another striking inequality). Electricity is essential, just to mention a few uses, to power ventilators, conduct screenings, store samples and safe sterilization of medical equipment.
What is the point of having advanced appliances and equipment, if you cannot power them, maintain them, and keep them functioning? Paradoxically, then, many rural health centers across the global south are forced to resort to unsafe, expensive and polluting fuels, just to ensure the minimum operational level.
It is clear then that renewable energies can really be a gamechanger for both medical practitioners and the communities they serve: energy is as life-saving as the appliances it powers! In fact, already in 2014 WHO reported that In Uganda, some 15% of hospitals used PV solar to complement grid electricity access, and in Sierra Leone, 36% of all health facilities and 43% of hospitals used solar systems in combination with other electricity sources.
Renewable energies can power up human development, when this is considered holistically rather than in a fragmented, sector-specific manner. We advocate for an increasingly integrated approach to development, that sees energy as a catalyser and an enabling tool for a prosperous future.
Together to achieve ALL SDGs!
 World Health Organization & World Bank. (2014). Access to modern energy services for health facilities in resource-constrained settings: a review of status, significance, challenges and measurement, Reprinted in 2015 with changes. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/156847
 Environmental conditions in health care facilities in low- and middle-income countries: Coverage and inequalities, Ryan Cronk, Jamie Bartram, International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Volume 221, Issue 3, April 2018, Pages 409-422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2018.01.004
 ARE 2020 – Best Practices for Electrifying Rural Health Care Facilities with Decentralised Renewables