The Nexus between Energy Access and Healthcare

By Oyindamola Sofoluwe

Imagine walking into a health centre for a baby delivery at 9pm and all they have as a source of electricity is either a phone torchlight or a lantern. How humorous would it be to have the midwife use a torchlight to check for the crown of the baby while the other nurses are using lanterns to check on the other patients, funny right? Well, that is the situation of several Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) in Nigeria. 

An average Nigerian would prefer to visit tertiary healthcare centres for mild treatments like malaria because their trust in the effectiveness of the tertiary health facilities is higher than that of the PHCs whose primary responsibility is to provide general health service of preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative nature of the population as on the entry point of the healthcare system.  

According to studies, despite the fact that Nigeria has three levels of healthcare delivery system (primary, secondary, and tertiary), many patients are more likely to overlook the primary healthcare centres. For those that can afford to pay the fees, they enter the health system at a higher level i.e visit private health institutions or use the tertiary healthcare centre, while those who cannot afford it seek informal care from pharmacy stores, traditional healers, or do not seek care at all.

Primary healthcare centres in Nigeria are mostly plagued with various infrastructural problems, the highest of which is lack of energy access. The underlying factors that enhanced the deplorable state of these PHCs are:

(i) Most PHCs are located in last-mile rural communities with poor dwellers,

(ii) These PHCs are out of visibility of Government and elected representatives.

The local government authorities that are saddled with the responsibilities of maintaining these PHCs are not empowered enough with adequate resources. If last-mile rural communities are not connected to the grid, how would the institutions in these communities get electrified?

It is without argument that electricity is important for economic growth in developing countries. Also, a healthy population is needed for a developing country, therefore, access to clean energy is necessary to achieve quality health care which is one of the major prerequisites for economic growth.

As a result of the inconsistent and in most cases non-existent power supply to the PHCs in Nigeria, hundreds of millions of people, especially women and children are left vulnerable to the brunt of the inadequacies of the primary health care services.

Medical personnel are also rendered helpless as they are unable to deliver modern health care in the safest ways possible. Research shows that Healthcare Associated Infection – infections people get while receiving health care for another illness, is estimated at 16% in low-income countries because they are prone to various inadequate environmental conditions and insufficient availability of standard precaution items, of which one of them is power supply.

With renewable energy making a name for itself in different countries, an end is gradually approaching to health facilities with no power supply. Different countries are currently working towards achieving the Sustainable development goals ahead of 2030 one of which is Goal 3 – ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.

Renewable energy through Off-grid (stand-alone and mini-grid) solutions, therefore, represents a reliable solution that is reliable to electrify healthcare centres and advertently promote the growth of the economy.

Renewable energy provides health clinics with efficient, low-cost, stable, and independent sources of electricity, with the potential to greatly increase and improve healthcare access and delivery in areas where power is scarce—especially in remote rural areas.

Health workers can now provide:

  • more efficient care and diagnoses to patients,
  • charge cell phones for communication,
  • refrigerate vaccines and other medications in portable cooler units,
  • or even power a range of essential devices, such as lights, water pumps, phones, and refrigerators, as well as laboratory equipment and a host of vital medical devices, depending on the solar power system built. 

In the long run, different levels of health centres in Nigeria will be patronized appropriately, and good treatment will be available at a reasonable cost. There is a strong link between energy access and healthcare in Nigeria, as well as throughout Africa: access to electricity is a critical enabler of modern healthcare, which is a fundamental human right.  

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