Powering health facilities in the aftermath of the pandemic

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Now in its third year, COVID-19 has revealed that too many hospitals and clinics worldwide do not have access to electricity.

In sub-Saharan Africa, only 28 percent of healthcare facilities have reliable electricity. These clinics, located mainly in rural areas, cannot store vaccines properly.  Medical equipment often malfunctions as the voltage is too high or too low. In addition, medical personnel is forced to perform procedures like running an IV, taking a blood sample, or even delivering a baby with little or no light.

As part of the World Bank Group’s COVID-19 response, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) deployed solutions to bring fast relief to some of these least-connected countries. 

For example, ESMAP’s Improving Livelihoods (IHLC) program provided technical assistance and a US$10 million grant to electrify health facilities as an added component in more than 20 World Bank projects. This activity also targets 7,000 health care facilities in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV), such as Burundi, Chad, Haiti, Liberia, Mali, and Niger.  

The US$350 million Nigeria Electrification Project reallocated $77 million to improve electricity supply in 500 health facilities—100 COVID-19 isolation and treatment centers and 400 primary healthcare facilities. 

The new electricity systems combine photovoltaic solar panels and battery storage backed by generators or the main grid. In areas not served by the main grid, the newly generated electricity will supply mini-grids and power surrounding communities.

The systems, which are standardized and modular, are installed and operated by prequalified private sector mini-grid developers.

In addition, ESMAP is using geospatial mapping to identify and organize the 500 health facilities targeted for the bidding process. The program provides  in-person and on-demand implementation support, helping install electrical systems in nearly 20 COVID-19 treatment facilities. In the coming months, the remaining facilities are due to receive investments.

Lessons Learned

While there is a strong demand for investing in green and resilient energy, governments face budget constraints and limited capacity to develop market-ready technologies and solutions. In addition, the durability and maintenance of solar PV systems at off-grid health facilities also remain a critical challenge.

Therefore, progress in electrifying health facilities will require a combination of  private sector innovation, investment from development partners, and in-country presence to achieve scale, quality, and sustainability.  In that effort, the World Bank continues to help governments to adopt innovations in data analytics, technology, business models, risk mitigation, and remote monitoring, thus enabling the private sector to engage more fully. 

Going forward

Over the past two years, ESMAP, the World Health Organization (WHO), Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) have collaborated to analyze the status of electricity access for health facilities worldwide. On October 7, these organizations will present the findings of the Global Assessment of Electricity in Healthcare Facilities at the Second Meeting of the High-Level Coalition on Health and Energy. The report, which will be launched at COP 27 in November, provides comprehensive data on the electrification rates of health facilities in low- and middle-income countries. It also presents successful and scalable business models to supply sustainable energy for health care services, including green technologies.

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