Health facilities need power. Clinics, maternity wards, operating rooms, medical warehouses, and laboratories rely on electricity to power the lights, refrigerate vaccines, and operate life-saving medical devices. The inability to carry out these essential services puts lives at risk. All too often, particularly in remote areas, health facilities face significant power shortages. A World Health Organization (WHO) review revealed that one in four health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa had no access to electricity, while only 28% of health facilities and 34% of hospitals had what could be called “reliable” access to electricity (without prolonged interruptions in the past week).
UNDP’s Solar for Health initiative supports governments to increase access to quality health services through the installation of solar energy photovoltaic systems (PV), ensuring constant and cost-effective access to electricity, while also mitigating the impact of climate change and advancing multiple Sustainable Development Goals.
Solar for Health can make a significant contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ by reaching remote and under-served communities. Specifically, it can help countries in their efforts to achieve SDGs 3, 7, 13 and 17: good health and well-being, affordable and clean energy, climate action and partnerships.
Broader development benefits include the creation of green jobs and the development of local manufacturing and markets for solar power. By training women as solar technicians to install and maintain solar panels, the initiative can also help countries advance SDG 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Solar systems provide a stable, clean and reliable energy supply, even in the most remote locations, meaning more patients can access the health services they need. Quality healthcare requires a dependable source of power for multiple purposes, including temperature and hygrometry controls, adequate lighting systems, refrigeration, cold rooms and IT networks for efficient stock and management of information.
Renewable energy is a means by which health systems can increase resilience to the challenges presented by climate change, including extreme weather events, droughts, and other events affecting the traditional power supply.
The WHO Operational Framework for building climate resilient health systems highlights the need to take a broader perspective to the challenge of climate change, including a focus on renewable energy in health facilities and utilizing innovative technologies.
Energy access plays a vital role in enabling health care delivery, but it can also inflict significant environmental harm unless it includes an explicit focus on progressively shifting to renewable energy and substituting fossil-based sources. The decommissioning of highly polluting and noisy diesel generators considerably improves the local environment around health facilities. The installation of standardised solar PV systems under the Solar for Health initiative will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 250K tons per year.
Solar energy results in lower power bills for health facilities. These vital budget savings can then be reinvested to support other priority health programmes or infrastructure. Solar power also generates a rapid return on investment. We estimate a 100 per cent return on investment within 2 to 3.5 years, on average, when health facilities with unreliable energy sources are installed with solar power.
UNDP has significant experience and expertise in building resilient and sustainable systems for health, including the delivery of large, complex health programmes with the Global Fund and other partners.* Besides, UNDP carries out extensive work to promote sustainable energy solutions.
UNDP’s expertise in providing project quality assurance means we have experienced teams that deliver day-to-day assistance, while also coordinating across countries and acting as a link with donors. In the past two years, UNDP has piloted and demonstrated several solar PV solutions in the health sector of Libya, Namibia, South Sudan, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In 2018, UNDP established its first Solar for health specific long-term agreement and has identified 19 pre-qualified suppliers for solar for health equipment. For standard primary health care facilities (health posts and health centres), UNDP procures plug and play solar PV units of 5 to 15 kWh, which ensure smooth, fast implementation and cost-effective installation.
For hospitals and other large health structures (hospitals and clinics), we deliver tailor-made solar PV solutions which ensure uninterrupted power supply for the critical departments of the hospitals such as; maternity, A&E, surgery, pharmacy and laboratory.
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Energy needs of the health sector are often exponential. Thus, Solar for Health is designed to ensure flexibility, meaning that it can be initiated with relatively small contributions and scaled up as funding becomes available and additional needs are identified.
* see UNDP HIV, Health & Development Strategy 2016-2021: Connecting the Dots @ http://tiny.cc/4yc3ky
Supporting HIV clinics in Zimbabwe
In 2017 with the financial support of the Global Fund, UNDP installed solar PV systems in 405 Health facilities across Zimbabwe with the installed capacity of 5 MWh.
Before the Solar for health project, many health facilities in Zimbabwe had access to electricity only four hours a day. With solar installations in place, they now have power 24/7 and patients are receiving the care they need, when they need it. As a consequence, solar for health has enhanced access to quality health services, notably for children under five (e.g. vaccination) and pregnant mothers who attend the health facilities for delivery. Additionally, the solar energy generated is used to maintain the cold chain and ensure the quality of medicines and laboratory reagents remains constant.
Solar panels will also facilitate water pumping and water purification – a pivotal achievement in a country in which water-borne diseases are the major killers of children.
Effective warehousing in Zambia
In Zambia, UNDP has been working in close partnership with Medical Stores Limited (MSL), an autonomous government agency mandated to receive, store and distribute pharmaceutical health products across the country. MSL has faced regular power interruptions in the past, affecting the effective running of warehouses, including the refrigeration of medicines and vaccines. With funding received from the Norwegian Emergency Preparedness System (NOREPS) and Global Fund, UNDP has supported MSL to install a solar powered energy system, combined with an energy efficient temperature control system covering 3000 m2 storage space. With the solar panels in place, MSL can ensure the effective running of its operations, even when there is no power from the national hydro-powered grid. This is vital to providing quality health services to the Zambian population, as interruptions in power supply had previously led to delays in the processing of requests from health facilities across the country. Furthermore, the solar power system has also ensured cold chain pharmaceutical items remain stored at the required temperatures.
UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis and can drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in nearly 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.
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