Saturday comment2

Akunna S. Ofili canvasses the use of renewable energy for efficient health facilities in rural areas

Regarded as a human capital development, the health care sector of a nation is one of the bedrocks of its existence. Societies attach great importance to issues surrounding their health care system and how it functions. To ensure that the system functions at its best, adequate health care facilities must be put in place which will help to enhance the growth and productivity of the nation.

According to World Bank statistics and based on the United Nations Population Division, Nigeria’s rural settlement has 51.40% population as at 2016. With this dense population, it is scary that health care services have been and are still very poor and not properly managed. As an important element of national security, public health not only functions to provide adequate and timely medical care, but also tracks, monitors, and controls disease outbreak and loss of lives. The Nigerian health care has been suffering great loss of lives year after year. Hence, there is need to tackle this problem.

Part of the major problems that hamper proper service delivery in the health sector is lack of adequate electricity. Most rural areas do not have electricity in their health care centres and are compelled to depend on fossil powered generators. Consequently, not only do they spend so much money on fuelling and maintaining the generators, they suffer the adverse effects of the generator use such as noise pollution that disturbs the health facility environment that normally should require pin-drop tranquility to enable the patients have a peaceful and healthy recuperation from the medical care they are receiving.

Due to the kind of health recipients from these health facilities, who are mostly patients that need quick recovery, it is important to consider what forms of alternative energy is used to provide energy for the health facilities in order to reduce pollution in the environment. No one wants to go to a hospital to get well only to end up with a new health problem, all because the hospital is filled with airborne toxic emissions due to the use of fossil fuel.

Some of these dangerous emissions have been known to cause an endless list of health problems such as heart diseases, lung cancer, increased respiratory symptoms, coughing or difficulty in breathing, aggravated asthma, development of chronic bronchitis, non-fatal heart attacks and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

Hospitals depend largely on electricity to run their activities. Electricity powers almost all of equipment needed in a hospital, including life support machines, incubators for premature babies, ventilation machines helping people to breathe, gas supplies for putting people to sleep during operations, blood pressure monitors. Also there are private medical laboratories that must depend on any source of energy to operate their medical equipment to carry out their laboratory test of all kinds. Most of them that are not attached to the public and/or private hospitals run their laboratory facilities as private businesses and fall within the SMEs. And having no adequate access to energy will eat deep into their business profits and delay service delivery that requires urgent attention to save life.

At a hospital, loss of electricity can lead to loss of life. There are cases where health personnel have complained of performing surgical operations and child deliveries during emergencies in the dim light or using touch lights, because there was no electricity available and their generating sets failed them at that emergency period. Therefore, for hospitals to be very effective, reliable electricity has a very high value.

However, there is hope to mitigate this energy debacle in the rural health facilities. It is time these rural health facilities look into the direction of alternative energy that comes from the renewable sources. This includes mostly solar energy. This could come in form of Solar Home Systems (SHS) and Micro Grids. Most health facilities, especially the rural ones are not well aware of the existence of renewable energy, let alone how it benefits them positively and enhances their service delivery. Some of the major units in the hospitals that are affected by electricity include lighting for proper and constant illumination. Water heating can use an excessive amount of energy in a hospital and therefore requires steady access to power. There are simple things like keeping fridges and freezers running to keep medicines working, because medicines can break down at the wrong temperature. Machines that help doctors decide what is wrong; like measuring the electrical activity of the heart (an ECG). They are also used to power machines like respirators, which breathe for people when they cannot do it for themselves, (for example, during some operations or after severe head injuries). Therefore, it is of paramount importance to keep the availability of energy constant in a hospital environment.

Since there is this great demand for energy due to lack of electricity, renewable energy should be introduced for greater efficiency in health facilities in the rural areas. Renewable energy is very reliable and can save the day on their own, they will be a central part of any long term energy strategy for both the urban and rural health care services. The quest for energy independence, economic growth, and environmental sustainability increasingly suggests the importance of renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is gained by tapping into “existing flows of energy” and “natural processes” in ways that generate more usable energy than is expended in the production process.

Governments should ensure that they prioritise providing these steady and clean energy by allocating adequate funds to the primary health care sector to cover for installation of solar energy in the rural health facilities.

If there are enough funds, rural health facilities would be upgraded. Quality of life, growth and productivity will improve. Also, hospital administrators should have ample chance to gain first-hand experience of the importance of uninterrupted electrical service and not leave it to the government alone.

Mrs. Ofili is a Senior Programme Officer, Climate Transformation and Energy Remediation Society, Abuja