Friday, January 7 2022

In a brightly lit hospital room, the gentle hum of medical equipment is punctuated by the persistent beep of a heart monitor and the steady beat of an oxygen pump. It’s a recognizable scene as healthcare professionals and technology work together to improve the patient. Most people would agree that health care is a basic human right and that everyone should have access to all the health services they need, when and where they are needed. This belief is reflected in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3, which aims “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. However, less than half of Africans have access to modern health facilities, and in remote areas, a visit to a mobile medical unit can mean more than a month of waiting, the alternative being a long drive to ‘to the nearest town, often on foot. Health care systems across Africa remain inadequate, and although each country has its own specific challenges, a fundamental challenge across the continent is limited access to electricity.

In high-income countries, hospitals are among the largest commercial consumers of electricity, relying on electricity for everything from water supply, temperature control, lighting and ventilation to a wide range of clinical equipment. In contrast, many hospitals and clinics across Africa do not have access to reliable electricity, if at all. This leads to serious problems, including the deterioration of drugs and the inability to use essential medical and diagnostic devices; even a lack of lighting and basic communications can complicate treatment, especially emergency procedures. The lack of electricity limits working hours and prevents the deployment of medical technology; recent reports have highlighted the importance of technology in health care and its potential to transform the way health care is delivered in Africa. But most technologies require a reliable source of electricity, and this is often lacking.

The problem lies in an underdeveloped energy industry that struggles with both the production and distribution of electricity. Electricity supply through national grids regularly fails to keep pace with demand – some countries in Africa experience power outages up to 50% of the time. This widespread inability to access electricity from the grid forces many hospitals and clinics to rely on diesel generators instead. These generators are often unreliable and expensive to operate, as well as being bad for the environment. Back-up generators cannot prevent sudden blackouts that damage delicate medical machinery or disrupt medical procedures and put the lives of patients at risk. No matter where you are on the planet, a reliable source of electricity is fundamental to providing the efficient health care we believe is a basic right, but there is a solution.

Africa has enormous potential for producing off-grid renewable energy from solar, wind and even hydro. And the costs associated with installing these sustainable energy sources continue to drop; Prices for solar panels have fallen by around 80% over the past decade. Renewable energy provides efficient, inexpensive, reliable and independent sources of electricity for medical centers that have the potential to expand and dramatically improve access to and delivery of health care where electricity is needed. problem, especially in remote rural areas. Small solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems are already widely used across Africa and help health workers provide care and diagnostics, charge cell phones for communication, and protect vaccines and other medicines. in portable cooling units. Larger photovoltaic solar panels are used to power a range of essential devices, including lights, water pumps, telephones and refrigerators, as well as laboratory equipment and a host of vital medical devices.

Despite this, with many health facilities underfunded and unable to afford the costs of installing renewable energy, calls were made for public-private initiatives through which multinational companies that extract resources in Africa would support them. local communities by financing the bulk of health care. . Such projects could include electricity. One example is the work of Enel Green Power (EGP) with St. Luke Hospital in Wolisso, Ethiopia. Located about 110 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, Wolisso is home to over 60,000 people, and the hospital here is a major health center serving a patient base of over one million. of people. Despite its importance to the community, St. Luke suffered frequent power outages, forcing it to use diesel generators to ensure a constant power supply.

As a renewable energy company supporting Ethiopia’s sustainable energy ambitions, EGP used its expertise to design and build an innovative solar hybrid system for St. Luke Hospital. Composed of a photovoltaic power plant and batteries, the sustainable system provides up to 320 kWh of electricity and the power plant is able to manage energy flows in real time to ensure a constant power supply. This enables the hospital to provide more efficient care for the approximately 79,000 outpatient visits, 15,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 deliveries it manages each year. In addition, the integration of solar energy has resulted in savings, money that the hospital can now reinvest in health services for the community. For Ethiopia, as for all of Africa, there is a powerful link between energy and health care: access to electricity is a key factor in accessing modern health care which is our right. fundamental human.

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