“I had five children but two died early because of illness. I don’t know what illness they had. We tried to treat them but did not receive proper medical help because the closest hospital is 70 kilometers away from here. There is a health center in the next village but it is locked and no doctors come there. Without electricity we can’t store medicines there for critical illnesses” said Nigah, a 25 years old inhabitant of Machela, rural Bihar (India), during one of our field surveys.
Like Nigah, there are 1.3 billion people without access to electricity in the world which means also that 1.3 billion people don’t have access of quality health services close to them. Lack of access to reliable energy in health care facilities is a serious obstacle impeding the delivery of essential health services, particularly in remote rural areas (World Health Organization, 2014).
Here’s why access to energy is a critical enabler for delivery of health services:
Furthermore, clean energy access has broader impact on health:
1. Modern energy access reduces the use of traditional fossil-fuels such as firewood, kerosene and diesel - according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4.3 million people a year die prematurely from illnesses attributable to the household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels (2012 data) for cooking. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend most of their time engaged with household work. Most common diseases are stroke (34%), ischaemic heart disease (26%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (22%), pneumonia (12%) and lung cancer (6%). The WHO have also found evidence of links between household air pollution and low birth weight, tuberculosis, cataract, nasopharyngeal and laryngeal cancers.
2. Women and children also spend much of their time harvesting heavy energy resources and thus correspondingly consume their physical energy, producing musculoskeletal disorders and related disability such as neck, head and back injuries, accelerating joint disorders such as arthritis and bringing chronic fatigue. In less secure environments, women and children are at risk of injury and violence during fuel gathering.
3. Access to energy and impact on food and water security - affordable and reliable energy access also makes possible, more efficient and cost-effective water pumping for consumption and crop irrigation. Clean drinking water is key for health and adequate crop irrigation translates directly into higher agricultural productivity, increasing food security.
Energy poverty has serious impact on health, in particular among women and children. Reliable energy provision at health facilities is a critical enabler of access to many medical technologies and services.
Without access to electricity, many life-saving health-care interventions, prevention of illnesses attributable to household air pollution and collection of heavy cooking fuels, and increase in food and water security measures simply cannot be undertaken.
World Health Organization (2014) Access to modern energy services for health facilities in resource-constrained settings: a review of status, significance, challenges and measurement.
Rice University James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy: The Baker Institute Energy Forum, "Poverty, energy and society."
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