Nigeria: Tapping the Sun to Give Quality Healthcare

(file photo).
30 September 2020

A Nigerian firm is leveraging the energy of the sun to keep local healthcare centres up and running, thus preserving drugs and saving lives.

When it is done installing the 5000 units of solar power mini grids in local healthcare facilities across the country which it plans to do, indigenous energy firm, Volsus Energy, believes that it would have significantly contributed to cutting down the rate of unpleasant health incidents recorded at the healthcare centres due to poor or non-existent access to electricity.

Reports from credible institutions championing healthcare delivery across the world indicate that the lack of reliable electricity has frequently prevented people, mostly in remote and rural communities from accessing the kind of healthcare they need and when they need it.

According to them, sustained energy poverty in Nigeria and indeed most parts of Africa have ensured that woman still give birth to their babies in the dark, critical surgeries are still carried out by candlelight while children are often left vulnerable to diseases because vaccines cannot be refrigerated and for that reason, they go bad or don't last long enough as they should.

In April 2019, the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) and the United Nations Foundation, linked up with key healthcare delivery partners to host a conference on 'Clean Energy for Health Care' in Nairobi, Kenya and it was disclosed that one in four health facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to lack access to electricity.

Additionally, the conference found that three in four of such facilities in the continent lack reliable power, and that the continued absence of adequate electricity delays the delivery of quality health care to people who need it and when they do.

Plainly, the conference explained that the absence of stable electricity, "leads to vaccine spoilage, interruptions in the use of essential medical and diagnostic devices, and lack of even the most basic lighting and communications for maternal delivery and emergency procedures".

"It also limits the hours of operation and retention of rural health workers and undermines the provision of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene. Simply put, the capacity of Africa's health systems - from community clinics to urban hospitals, to deliver adequate care is hugely hampered by the continent's lack of access to electricity," the conference added.

Renewables Could Fill Energy Access Gap

Due to the continent's limited capacity in on-grid electricity supply, the SE4All and its partners opted to raise awareness among Africa's policymakers and key stakeholders to the importance of and the opportunity that exist in electricity from renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

According to them, the continent could leverage renewables and energy efficiency practices to create stronger and more resilient healthcare systems for its people. While sharing knowledge on how this could be useful in resource-constrained environments to improve healthcare delivery, they emphasised the need for Africa to prioritise deploying renewable energy to healthcare delivery.

For instance, using renewable energy, clinics, maternity wards, surgery blocks, medical warehouses and laboratories which lack or rely on unstable grid electricity could improve on their abilities to refrigerate medicines, provide quality lights for surgery, sterilise medical equipment and undertake life-saving medical procedures with devices that require electricity.

With renewable energy sources, healthcare facilities in Nigeria and Africa could also ensure quality service delivery to patients. According to healthcare experts, keeping vaccines and medicines refrigerated ensures that their medical worth and potency is secured for long.

Considering the resource-constrained condition which most medical facilities in Nigeria are subjected to, energy experts equally explained that pivoting to solar power could help them save money, which could be reinvested to build more resilient health systems. Additionally, more savings could be gained from reduction in waste of pharmaceutical or medical products which shelf lives depend broadly on controlled temperature.

Harvesting the Potentials in Karu

Based on the possibilities of leveraging solar electricity for quality healthcare delivery, an indigenous clean energy start-up, Volsus Energy, initiated and recently unveiled a scheme - the Volsus Solar for Health (VSFH) mini-grid programme in Abuja, which it plans to subsequently deploy to parts of the country where access to electricity for healthcare centres is dire.

Volsus explained during the unveiling of the scheme at the Karu Primary Health Centre within the federal capital city, Abuja, that it intends to install about 5,000 units of such mini grid solar systems across health centres in the country to improve their services to locales.

According to Tomiwa Bayo-Ojo who heads the start-up, the 12-kilowatt power (kwp) VSFH mini-grid with 58-kilowatt hour (kwh) battery bank will provide to the Karu health centre sustainable, efficient, clean and reliable electricity to deliver quality healthcare services to patients who visit.

Karu being on the eastern flank of the federal capital city along the Abuja-Keffi highway, will also offer to neighbouring Mararaba, opportunities for quality healthcare delivery with the new solar power facility.

Bayo-Ojo who explained that the clean energy facility was initially conceived to support Nigeria's healthcare system against the COVID-19 pandemic, however noted that the start-up recognised the federal government's longing to use renewable energy to deliver quality electricity to underserved and un-served segments of Nigeria which the healthcare sector is a part of.

He noted that Volsus was, "deeply concerned about this, and has considered the state of the nation's health facilities amidst the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic," to initiate the VSFH programme.

"The firm has the vision to promote the attainment of Goal 7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards creating ripple effects on the living conditions of millions of Nigerians who seek access to health facilities," Bayo-Ojo said, adding that the plan to provide access to sustainable and uninterrupted electricity with solar to Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) across Nigeria has begun.

He also stated that technical support for the first phase of the VSFH was given to the firm by the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Goddy Jeddy-Agba, and that a three-year maintenance plan was part of the scheme.

"This pilot mini grid project is fully funded by Volsus Energy Limited with technical and advisory support from the Office of the Minister of State for Power.

"Prior to the installation of this solar mini grid facility, access to uninterrupted power has been the bane of the centre especially as it could not operate optimally. However, this success story of the Volsus Solar For Health (VSFH) mini grid is changing that story," Bayo-Ojo noted.

He further stated that: "The mini grid is now providing 24-hour electricity to the wards, the labour room, the laboratory, and the entire building. There is also the component for a refrigerator to improve the storage process of vaccines for routine immunisation at the centre," to buttress the position of global bodies such as the SE4All on renewable energy as a potent solution to poor energy access for healthcare facilities.

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