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). Access to electricity is essential for quality health care, from childbirth to managing emergencies such as heart attacks or providing life-saving vaccinations. Without reliable electricity in all health care settings, universal health coverage cannot be achieved, the report noted.
The growing electrification of healthcare facilities is essential for saving lives
The joint report Energizing health: accelerating access to electricity in health facilities, presents the latest data on the electrification of healthcare facilities in low- and middle-income countries. It also projects the investments required to achieve adequate and reliable electrification in the healthcare sector and identifies key priority actions for governments and development partners.
“Access to electricity in healthcare facilities can mean the difference between life and death” She said Dr Maria Neira, Deputy Director-General ai, for Healthier Populations at WHO. “Investing in reliable, clean and sustainable energy for healthcare facilities is not only crucial for pandemic preparedness, but also much needed to achieve universal health coverage, as well as to increase climate resilience and adaptation.”
Electricity is needed to power the most basic devices – from lights and communication equipment to refrigeration, or devices that measure vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure – and is essential for both routine and emergency procedures. When healthcare facilities have access to reliable sources of energy, critical medical equipment can be powered and sterilized, clinics can store life-saving vaccines, and healthcare workers can perform essential surgery or deliver babies as scheduled.
Yet more than 1 in 10 healthcare facilities in South Asia and sub-Saharan African countries lack access to electricity, the report finds, while electricity is unreliable for a good half of facilities in Africa sub-Saharan. While some progress has been made in the electrification of healthcare facilities in recent years, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide are served by healthcare facilities with no or no reliable electricity supply at all. To put this into perspective, this is close to the entire population of the US, Indonesia, Pakistan and Germany combined.
Disparities in access to electricity within countries are also stark. Primary health care centers and rural health care facilities are much less likely to have access to electricity than hospitals and facilities in urban areas. Understanding those disparities is key to identifying where actions are most urgent and prioritizing the allocation of resources where they will save lives.
Health is a human right and a public good
Access to electricity is a major enabler of universal health coverage, says the report, and therefore the electrification of health facilities must be considered a top development priority requiring increased support and investment from governments, partners of development and financing and development organizations.
According to a World Bank needs analysis included in the report, nearly two-thirds (64%) of healthcare facilities in low- and middle-income countries require some form of urgent intervention, such as a new electrical connection or a backup electrical system. – and some $4.9 billion is urgently needed to bring them to a minimum standard of electrification.
No need – and no time – to ‘wait for the grill’
Decentralized sustainable energy solutions, for example based on solar PV systems, are not only cost-effective and clean, but are also quickly deployable on site, without the need to wait for the core grid to arrive. Solutions are readily available and the public health impact would be enormous.
Additionally, healthcare systems and facilities are increasingly affected by the accelerating impacts of climate change. Building health systems resilient to climate change it means building facilities and services that can meet the challenges of a changing climate, such as extreme weather events, while improving environmental sustainability at the same time.