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1 in 8 of the world population gets healthcare in facilities without reliable power supply: Report

Close to one billion people across low-and-middle-income countries get their medical treatment in healthcare facilities that lack a reliable electricity supply, a new report by World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Bank, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), show.

Noting that increasing electrification of healthcare facilities is essential to save lives, the report points out that  Access to electricity is critical for quality healthcare provision, from delivering babies to managing emergencies like heart attacks or offering lifesaving immunisation.

“Without reliable electricity in all healthcare facilities, Universal Health Coverage cannot be reached,” the report notes.

“Electricity access in healthcare facilities can make the difference between life and death,” Dr Maria Neira, Assistant Director-General, for Healthier Populations at WHO, said.

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The Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar said that more active discussion along with the identification of concrete actions to accelerate clean cooking and improve the electrification of healthcare facilities in the countries.

“Investing in reliable, clean and sustainable energy for healthcare facilities is not only crucial to pandemic preparedness, but it is also much needed to achieve universal health coverage, as well as increasing climate resilience and adaptation,” she added.

The report notes that even though electricity is required to power the most basic devices and is critical for both routine and emergency procedures, more than one in ten health facilities in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa lack any electricity access at all, and power is unreliable for roughly half of the facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“When healthcare facilities have access to reliable sources of energy, critical medical equipment can be powered and sterilised, clinics can preserve lifesaving vaccines, and health workers can carry out essential surgeries or deliver babies as planned,” the report noted.

The report further pointed out that disparities in electricity access within countries are also stark, with primary healthcare centres and rural health facilities being considerably less likely to have electricity access than hospitals and facilities in urban areas.

The joint 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.

Heather Adair-Rohani, Acting Unit Head of Air Quality, Energy and Health at WHO, said in a recent interview that electricity is a vital, important part of a functioning healthcare facility to deliver quality healthcare services, which is a part of universal health coverage.

“It is absolutely fundamental that health care facilities have a reliable source of electricity that is available at all times and is functioning,” she said.

“Imagine going to a health care facility with no lights, with no opportunity to have a baby warmer functioning,” she added.

“To have medical devices functioning and powered all the time, it is absolutely fundamental that we have this electricity. This is an often overlooked infrastructure aspect of health care facilities that are desperately needed to continue to provide care to those most vulnerable populations in low and middle-income countries,” she further added.

Pointing out that there are ways in which the situation can be reversed, the report says decentralised sustainable energy solutions, including solar power, 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.
According to the report, these readily available solutions have the potential to have a significant impact on public health.

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