Renewable energy for powering PHCs


Sir: Since World Health Organisation (WHO) pioneered the deployment of various types of energy sources over the last four decades for the vaccine cold chain for its expanded programme on immunisation (see: renewable energy for rural health clinic published by National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1998), it has become very obvious that solar energy technology would play critical role in providing alternative power source to ensure good quality and safe vaccine storage in remote health centres. Increasingly, evidence has crystallised that the introduction of solar power has the ability to significantly improve healthcare delivery to poor and rural communities.

For example, a study in Sarguja, a district in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh, finds that on average, health facilities with solar treated 50% more out-patients each month, conducted 50% higher institutional deliveries, admitted a higher number of in-patients as well as provided round the clock services. Thus, health facilities with solar power performed significantly better than those without; thereby establishing connection between access to reliable electricity by health facilities and better health outcome in rural communities. This is because, regular and reliable provision of electricity to healthcare facilities is important for their effective operation. In many developing countries, over one-half of healthcare facilities have no electricity or lack reliable electricity.
Tunde Salman is the convener of Good Governance Team, a Nigerian civil society advocacy and monitoring platform.

It is a common knowledge that Nigeria’s power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructures are not commensurate with the energy demands of the population (including reliable electricity for healthcare facilities). The question therefore remains: what is the proportion of health facilities with reliable 24-hour supply of electricity in Nigeria? What is the electricity need of community health facilities? What is the impact of lack of access to reliable electricity on our health outcome in Nigeria (particularly in rural areas)? This is necessary because, most of our healthcare facilities lack access to reliable electricity. Even the lowest health facility at the level of a post or dispensary requires being connected to national grid and or other regular alternative power source. Health facilities depend on access to reliable electricity for functioning at night, operating diagnostic equipment, pumping water, vaccine storage, and managing hazardous waste materials, etc.

According to renewable energy experts, solar systems have several advantages; they provide flexibility to design that can cater to the power load of a health centre, reliability of performance, critical loads such as vaccine refrigerators, and service to remote or hard to reach areas where access related challenges are most acute. It is estimated that the solar potential of Nigeria ranges between 4.0kWh/m2/day to 6.5kWh/m2/day for average of five hours every day according to a report on Nigeria’s Energy Calculator 2050 (NECAL 2050). In 2010, Nigeria was reported to have 0.015GW Stand Alone Solar (SAS) PV installation and no grid solar PV installation (ibid).

The legislative framework provided under parts VIII and IX of the Nigeria’s Electric Power Sector Reform [EPSR] Act OF 2005 can be explored to create macro level fiscal space to accommodate PHCs particularly those located in remote places in our rural electrification programme. To this end, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) in collaboration with National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) can provide 2kWh off grid solar PV systems with battery backup to thousands of PHCs across the country. This would be in line with sustainable energy for all action agenda (SE4ALL-AA) established by Inter-Ministerial Committee on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ICREE) which set the target of electrifying up to 90% of the community healthcare facilities by 2030 for Nigeria.

As severally pointed out at many stakeholders levels, accelerating deployment of renewable energy to health centres is a need of the hours; moreover, powering health systems through renewable energy such as solar could address energy (sustainable development goal 7) and health (sustainable development goal 3) concerns simultaneously. The availability of reliable and regular electricity to run 24 hours health services at the primary healthcare centres is critical if the goal of universal health coverage would be reached. According to WHO’s health indicators of sustainable energy, health offers a universal indicator of progress in attaining the UN Secretary General’s goals for sustainable energy for all.  

The delivery of healthcare involves three main components: inputs, health production, and outputs. System inputs include facilities, personnel, equipment and supplies that are required for health production by health providers who offer health services as system outputs to patients. Therefore, access to reliable electricity can have significant implications for providing healthcare especially for maternal, newborn and child health.
Tunde Salman is the convener of Good Governance Team, a Nigerian civil society advocacy and monitoring platform.

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