SEARCH-Africa is a not-for-profit organisation with the goal of increasing access to clean and reliable energy supplies in African healthcare facilities. The SEARCH-Africa approach is to evaluate the healthcare service delivery problems faced by facilities and design solutions which are not only appropriate, but also impact-driven. Supported by the Environmental Change Institute of Oxford University, our focus is on sustainable energy development for the most climate-sensitive regions in Africa.
Engaging with the medical community in energy development
In 2013 the development charity Practical Action estimated that globally a billion people are served by healthcare facilities with no access to electricity. Without electricity these facilities are unable to provide clinical services (including surgical procedures) after sunset, refrigerate vaccines, sterilize equipment, or perform essential laboratory investigations. Where an energy source is available reliability poses an equally significant challenge, as power outages result in the failure of life-sustaining equipment. Anecdotal evidence of surgery being performed by the light of mobile phones or failing incubators leading to child mortality brings into focus the importance of a medical community that engages with the development of sustainable energy. From there the SEARCH-Africa interdisciplinary approach involving professionals in healthcare and engineering.
“As doctors, we have been trained to think about human resources, drugs and equipment – not electricity”.
- Dr Carlos Dora,WHO
In recent years electrification programmes in the developed world have prioritized households and schools. Healthcare facilities have not enjoyed the same level of attention. To a degree domestic building and classrooms have an easy one-size-fits all solution, while health centres, hospitals and clinics have much more unique challenges. While this holds some truth, it is still possible to design low-cost systems that can be replicated in other facilities. The rewards go far beyond the benefit of bringing lighting to one family.
The immediate beneficiaries of sustainable electricity at a healthcare facility are the clinicians working in an energy-deficient environment. Access to reliable lighting and the ability to power medical equipment enhances their ability to provide quality care over 24 hours. As a result the ultimate beneficiaries are the communities who rely on the particular health centres. In many cases improved care can make the difference to their well-being and that of their families.