Sharm el-Sheikh – The International Renewable Agency (IRENA), on Tuesday, said it will invest $1billion in a new initiative that will electrify health facilities, as well as food storage and agriculture, with solar energy.
This program aims to address the gaps in health care that leave an estimated one billion people worldwide dependent on health facilities that have no electricity or unreliable equipment, IRENA Director General, Francesco La Camera.
He was speaking at a high-level event, “Empowering health: accelerating access to electricity in health facilities,” organized by the World Health Organization at COP27.
La Camera said his agency is examining capacity gaps in health care systems in many of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Burkina Faso, Malawi and Mali to get a better idea of the gaps in access to capacity, and how they are getting it. hinder the provision of health needs.
A A 2013 WHO-sponsored study of 11 in sub-Saharan Africa countries found that 26% of health facilities have no electricity at all, and only 28% of facilities, on average, have reliable electricity. Even at the hospital level, only 34% of hospitals have reliable electricity. During that time of violence, there was a large-scale campaign to increase the capacity of refrigerators in African health centers to release COVID vaccines, which required a reliable cold chain. But there remains a lack of systematic investment, and comprehensive data about existing gaps and needs.
Even if there is little information available, however, it is clear that the lack of electricity and the effects on health care are worse in Africa, the participants agreed at this event, which included representatives of the World Bank, the WHO office in Somalia and a leading solar businessman from India.
Their discussion focused on the energy needs of health care facilities, the potential to transition to renewable energy sources, and the necessary funding for such programs.
“Because of COP28, we intend to build relationships with governments, civil society organizations, charities, humanitarian funds, the World Bank and private companies among other stakeholders, and naturally, the WHO, has committed $1 billion to developing energy and livelihoods. , renewables, follow adaptation, an initiative to connect people and livelihoods through the use of renewable energy solutions in the agriculture, food and health sectors,” said La Camera, with the commitment of IRENA.
The World Bank is also doubling down on financing to focus on micro-grids
The IRENA program comes on top of the World Bank’s existing $1.3 billion investment in renewable energy access to farms, schools and health centers in underserved communities, said Riccardo Puliti, vice president of the Bank’s infrastructure division. But of that money, no more than $100 million goes to health facilities, he acknowledged.
Efforts to invest in health facilities accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis, he noted. During that time, the Bank developed and spread advanced tools for facilities to balance their energy needs, to allow for reliable electrification of cold chains, as well as storage of vaccines.
However, the Bank is now planning to raise funds for community mini-grids, where health facilities as well as homes, schools and other public works, can all benefit.
Microgrids are decentralized energy centers that may include solar arrays, battery storage and generator backup, and can be used to generate and distribute electricity to small communities that are too far from the grid to enjoy reliable service from conventional power.
“The idea is to provide micro-grids to half a billion people and 100,000 health facilities by 2030.Puliti said.
Studying in Nigeria and Somalia
Among the sub-Saharan African countries, Somalia is among the least well-served countries. About 85% of the population of Somalia does not have electricity. Only 28% of the health facilities in the East African country have electricity and only 27% of the people cannot access health care easily, said Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, WHO representative in Somalia, who was also present at the event.
The price of electricity in Somalia is between $1-$2 per kilowatt hour, while neighboring regions pay anywhere between $0.02 and $0.03.
Calling Somalia’s plight a “social injustice”, Malik explained that emergency surgeries and procedures on children are often carried out under kerosene lamps or candles.
Inevitably, the lack of access to electricity also contributes to the country’s high child mortality rates.
“A child born today (in Somalia) is 16.5 times more likely to die before the child is five years old,” said Malik. “This is not the fault of the child, it is because we do not have health centers that can provide health care. We do not have refrigerators to store vaccines. One in seven children in Somalia miss out on these life-saving vaccines.”
In January 2021, the Somali Ministry of Health, with support from the WHO, tested a solar powered oxygen delivery system at the government hospital in Galmudug. This has saved the lives of several children who came to the hospital suffering from respiratory problems such as asphyxia, pneumonia and accidents and trauma.
After this, the program was also set up in four other hospitals. Then in 2022, the government started scaling up other solar energy projects to provide building-based electricity to 100 primary health care facilities.
Dr. Malik said the reason why WHO supports the equipping of Somalia’s health centers with solar power is because it is a very effective solution in a dry country that receives more than eight hours of sunlight a day.
Cost is also an important factor in this decision, he said. “A health center or laboratory spends $8,000 to $10,000 to pay the electricity bill (from grid services or diesel generators). If solar power is installed, they will only pay $30 to maintain the power line, the electricity will be free.”
He also added that solar energy will also help reduce the wastage of medicines and vaccines due to poor storage conditions.
Similarly, Nigeria’s minister of energy, Abubakar D.Aliyu shared his experience of converting health facilities to renewables in his country.
The experience started when two health centers in every region of the country, designated to receive vaccines, were installed with solar energy.
The government also equipped at least one million houses with solar panels last year, the minister said; the goal is to electrify six million homes by the end of 2023.
“And I know it’s possible. If we have the same will, if we have the desire to do it, it will happen,” he said.
Collaboration between divisions is important
While money may be an obvious obstacle to achieving targets when it comes to switching to renewable energy, what is often lacking is political will, notes Harish Hande, founder of the organization. SELCO Indiaa Bangalore-based social enterprise company that has been deeply involved in the national solar electrification efforts.
SELCO India, in collaboration with the Ikea Foundation, has a goal of installing solar energy systems in 25,000 health facilities over the next four years. “If a very small organization like SELCO with 150 employees has committed to making 25,000. [facilities] with the Ikea Foundation, other institutions should do 20 times more. And by 2026 we should stop talking about solarizing health,¨ he said.
He added that more efforts also needed to be invested in harnessing the innovative potential of the private sector – especially in the design and production of key low-energy appliances.
“We would not lose an opportunity if we consider this as an issue of electricity… It’s not about solar power. It is a combination of innovation that will drive innovation.”
Meanwhile, La Camera emphasized the need to put in place the necessary solar infrastructure, which can be used to increase solar power. “The industrial sector must work together,” he said.
And there is a need to encourage industries in underserved regions, such as Africa, to manufacture solar equipment at cheap, or even subsidized, prices.
Puliti pointed out that unlike five years ago, solar arrays and batteries are affordable and competitive in almost any setting.
In dense urban areas, more reliable grid-based power using a mix of renewable and non-renewable energy sources is a possible short-term goal, he said. But especially in sub-Saharan Africa, there is a “large urban-rural divide” where rural areas do not have grid connections in the short term.
“In sub Saharan Africa, 52% of people do not have electricity,” he said, adding that cities have 80-85% of the electricity grid compared to countries like Somalia and the Central African Republic that have little electricity. .
“So we have to work on both, make sure that the cities get electricity, usually from the grid, and then develop as much as possible, all kinds of off grid…with batteries. We have to understand that solar and batteries compete with everything we can think of. Five years ago, the sun was there and batteries were not competitive. It’s competitive now,” he explained.
“Only by working together – regions, financial institutions, institutions like IRENA, WHO, the public – (we can achieve this)…” said Puliti. “This is different from 10-12 years ago when (the cause) was neglected. I have a strong feeling that we will overcome it. this is 2030, even though we’re in the middle of a big crisis, we’ve had the plague and everything else.”
Photo credits: Megha Kaveri/HPW.
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