Solar energy improves medical healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa

UNDP develops the Solar for Health project in Zambia and Zimbabwe. More than 400 healthcare centres are now equipped with solar panels and the health products' cold chain is preserved.

In sub-Saharan Africa, lack of access to electricity has dramatic consequences for the quality of medical care. According to a study1 published in 2013, only 28% of hospitals have reliable access to electricity in these countries. 26% of health centres would have no access to electricity at all.

The lack of electricity complicates the practice of health workers. Medical devices cannot function optimally. The operating room lighting is random, and air conditioning does not exist. Drugs and vaccines are often kept outside the temperature ranges recommended by WHO2.

Since the beginning of 2010, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has started to install photovoltaic panels in Zambia. Three health facilities that are isolated, especially during the rainy season, have been equipped. This project was conducted in partnership with the Norwegian network NOREPS.

The success of this pilot project led to the emergence of the "Solar for Health" project in 2018.

For example, 405 health facilities were equipped with solar panels in Zimbabwe, in rural areas where there was no access to electricity. Childbirth, in particular, is now facilitated.

In Zambia, 7,000m2 of photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof of the national medical warehouse. This is where all the country's pharmaceuticals health products are stored.

UNDP estimates a 100% return on investment within 2 to 5 years, when health facilities with unreliable energy sources install solar systems.

1 ADAIR-ROHANI Heather. ZUKOR Karen. BONJOUR Sophie., et al. Limited electricity access in health facilities of sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review of data on electricity access, sources, and reliability. Global Health: Science and Practice. 2013, vol.1, n. 2. Available following this link.

2 According to WHO, vaccines have to be stored at a temperature range between 2 and 8°C.