Solar Sister’s Energy Access & Health Matters Series:
Clean Energy Services to Achieve Millennium Development Health Goals
In 2000, 189 nations made a promise to free people from basic forms of injustice and inequality in our world: extreme poverty, illiteracy and ill health. This pledge became the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) to be achieved by 2015. Health is at the heart of the MDG’s with three goals related directly to health: reduce child mortality, improve material health and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases). Health is also linked with the achievement of all the other goals, especially eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal education, and gender equality.
A key ingredient of achieving these health goals will have to be reliable access to clean energy. This has two dimensions: First, displacing the use and consequences of unhealthy fuels like kerosene and fuel wood that I have written about in my earlier blog pieces in this series. Second, reliable clean energy supply is vital for health care providers to help them focus on their job of improving health of the poor. It is this second dimension that I want to speak to you about now. For without energy, how can hospitals and clinics ensure refrigeration of critical vaccines and sterilization of equipment? How can important medical procedures like delivery of babies be carried out in the dark? How can simple medical records be digitized for faster and more efficient service? How can public health messages to prevent deadly diseases be spread on radio and television?
Good news is that we have a growing number of innovative organizations and individuals around the world, who are working hard to raise awareness on this important connection between health and energy. For example, Solar Sister Zuura in Uganda is also pursuing a Bachelors of Nursing degree. Zuura talks about the need of light for night and evening shifts in health clinics while putting up IV fluids and emergency blood transfusions. She is proud to be a Solar Sister Entrepreneur because not only can she earn a living now, but help her bring light which can save many lives in her community.
Another inspiring story is that of Solar Sister’s friend Dr. Laura Stachel, Co-Founder & Executive Director at WE CARE Solar. In 2008, Dr.Stachel went to Northern Nigeria to study ways to lower maternal mortality in state hospitals. She witnessed deplorable conditions in state facilities including sporadic electricity that impaired maternity and surgical care. Without a reliable source of electricity, nighttime deliveries were attended in near darkness, cesarean sections were cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and critically ill patients waited hours or days for life-saving procedures. The outcomes were often tragic. Moved by this critical need, she wrote to her husband Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator back in Berkeley, California. Together, Laura and Hal co-founded WE CARE Solar to improve maternal health outcomes in regions without reliable electricity which designs portable, cost-effective solar suitcases that power critical lighting, mobile communication devices and medical devices in low resource areas without reliable electricity.
If we can support many more women like Solar Sister Zuura and Dr. Laura Stachel around the world, no more lives would be lost for the lack of light. The UN has announced 2012 as the International Sustainable Energy for All Year. As part of the initiative, the United Nations Foundation has launched a new global Energy Access Practitioner Network to mobilize execution. You can also make a difference by understanding and increasing awareness on this important issue of energy and health.