EGYPT — The World Bank has announced plans to triple its investments in solar electrification efforts to reach 100,000 health facilities by 2030 in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, only 28 percent of healthcare facilities have reliable electricity for life-saving equipment or cold storage for medicine and vaccines.

The World Bank estimates that it will take about US$1 billion per year until 2030 to electrify Sub-Saharan Africa’s health clinics.

The majority of experts agree that distributed generation, primarily powered by solar photovoltaic systems, is the most cost-effective and time-efficient solution.

At the same time, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) also announced a new US$1 billion effort to electrify health facilities, as well as food storage and agriculture, with solar power.

According to IRENA’s Director General, Francesco La Camera, the initiative aims to address the gaps in health care that leave an estimated one billion people around the world reliant on healthcare facilities with either no electricity or an unreliable supply.

He was speaking at the World Health Organization’s COP27 Health Pavilion during a high-level event called “Energizing Health: Accelerating Electricity Access in Health-Care Facilities.”

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), as many as 30 countries in Africa have electricity outages because supply lags demand.

La Camera stated that his organization is assessing energy gaps in healthcare systems in a number of the poorest Sub-Saharan African countries, beginning with Burkina Faso, Malawi, and Mali, to gain a better understanding of energy access gaps and how they impede health service delivery.

Over the last decade, international relief organizations have invested tens of millions of dollars in solar power for Africa’s health clinics.

Historically, the health sector’s fallback power option in areas with poor grid access has been diesel generators, which are not only highly polluting but also expensive, with fuel costs and breakdowns leaving a large proportion idle.

During the pandemic, there was a big push to add solar-powered refrigeration capacity to African health centers so that COVID vaccines, which require a reliable cold chain could be distributed.

However, there is still a lack of systematic investment, as well as comprehensive data on gaps and needs on the ground.

Lessons from Somalia

Somalia is one of the least-served countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 85% of Somalia’s population lacks access to electricity.

According to Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, WHO’s representative in Somalia, who also spoke at the event, only 28% of healthcare facilities in the east African country have access to electricity, and only 27% of the population has easy access to healthcare.

Electricity in Somalia costs between US$1 and US$2 per kilowatt hour, while neighboring countries pay between US$0.02 and US$0.03.

Malik described how emergency surgeries and pediatric procedures are frequently performed under kerosene lamps or even candle lights, describing Somalia’s plight as a “social injustice.”

With WHO assistance, the Somalian health ministry piloted a solar-powered oxygen delivery system at a government hospital in Galmudug in January 2021.

Following that, the system was implemented in four additional hospitals. The government began scaling up other solar energy systems in 2022 to provide building-based electricity to 100 primary healthcare centers.

Access to energy is a prerequisite for quality health care and is fundamental to the achievement of universal healthcare coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The impact of the World Bank’s initiative could extend beyond simply electrifying Africa but will become a foundational enabler in providing quality access to healthcare.

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