The ability of a public health facility to serve its community well rests on several determinants: the range of its services, the size and skills of its medical staff, the effectiveness of the equipment, and the quality of its infrastructure. What is often overlooked, however, is a vital resource that underpins all of these—a steady and reliable supply of electricity.

Electricity is the lifeblood of a public health centre, supporting it in ways both obvious and unseen. It powers the equipment used in diagnosis, treatment, and immunisation (vaccine refrigerators, X-ray machines, baby warmers, sterilisers, and centrifuges), and keeps the centre’s basic utilities such as lighting, cooling, heating, and communications systems running. In addition, it powers the homes of staff living on the premises, securing both their safety and comfort.

Creating resilient energy systems for public health

A facility with an uncertain electricity supply is compromised in its ability to extend routine and emergency healthcare to local communities. Urban clinics typically enjoy a steadier supply of electricity than rural ones, but the farther a rural clinic is from gridlines, the greater its dependence on alternative energy sources such as diesel gensets. Facilities that lack electricity fall short of basic medical equipment and tend to be understaffed. A recent report published by WHOIRENAWorld Bank, and SEforALL estimates that approximately one-eighth of the global population is served by healthcare facilities that have no, or unreliable, electricity supply.

It is not the reliability of power alone that poses a problem for last-mile healthcare delivery, but the quality of it too. Even with uninterrupted supply, fluctuating voltage can damage highly sensitive medical appliances. Immunisation suffers as well, for when cold chains and cold storage facilities are disrupted, temperature-controlled vaccines are rendered ineffective. These vaccines must then be discarded, which causes wastage and delay in time-sensitive vaccination programmes.

In the past decade, the central and state governments in India have made several efforts to strengthen both the energy and public health system infrastructure in the country. However, mounting challenges posed by disruptive climate events put the energy infrastructure at risk and often compromise transportation infrastructure as well. This makes it difficult to maintain and rectify power lines, which can in turn impact health centres.

The smooth functioning of health facilities like sub-centres (SCs) and primary health centres (PHCs) is critical—especially when extreme weather events and disasters such as landslides, floods, and intense heatwaves occur—because these centres serve as the first point of care and relief to local communities. Each facility caters to 6,000–30,000 people and is often the only medical resource that families—especially those from low-income communities—can rely on.

Read the full article about decentralised solar energy by Huda Jaffer at India Development Review.