Nine out of ten people living in rural regions of Africa do not have access to modern energy, according to the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Out of 1.3 billion people who do not have access to electricity, more than half live in a Least Developed Country (LDC) and 95 percent live in Sub-Saharan Africa or developing areas of Asia. At the fourth UN Conference on LDCs held in 2011, the Istanbul Programme of Action for the decade 2011- 2020 recognized that access and efficient distribution of affordable, reliable, and renewable energy and related technologies are keys to accelerating growth, improving livelihoods, and advancing sustainable development in LDCs (view the full report here).
Dependable energy is critical for primary health care services. Electricity is needed for lighting, vaccine storage, access to clean water, equipment sterilization, and to power medical equipment. The World Health Organization found that up to 58 percent of health care facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa operate without electricity. In 2010, an estimated 287,000 women died of complications from pregnancy and childbirth; according to Sustainable Energy for All, many of these deaths could be prevented with better lighting and power which may result in fewer delays in providing life-saving care, more timely blood transfusions, and more successful child deliveries. Sustainable Energy for All, launched in 2011 as a global initiative to mobilize action from all sectors in support of objectives including providing universal access to modern energy services, has developed a High Impact Opportunity (HIO) to develop and implement specific actions to advance Energy and Women’s Health.
The essential first step, to be completed in 2014, is to document improved health benefits from increased access to modern energy services. Some of the eventual outcomes (i.e., by year 2030) outlined in this HIO include:
- Understanding the existing gap in access to energy-dependent health care services (both for prevention and treatment).
- Engaging the health sector in assessing the gap in energy-related services critical to women’s health.
- Developing public-private partnerships to encourage good design and mobilizing financing for installation.
- Establishing appropriate system design, maintenance, and repair requirements to train local electricians, mechanics, and engineers.
- Mobilizing public/private energy sector linkages with the health sector and catalyzing support and action for identified policies/investments to close the energy gap in healthcare, as well as catalyzing sustainable energy service installations in medical clinics.
While this specific high impact opportunity will focus primarily on the link between energy and women’s health, electrification of health facilities will bring a wide range of health benefits to entire communities. Reliable energy will allow health workers in remote areas of the world to provide more effective and efficient care for years to come.