As more health facilities are built all over India, it is essential to ensure they minimise their carbon footprints

Institutional deliveries have helped reduce infant mortality in India. (Photo by Nick Cunard)

Institutional deliveries have helped reduce infant mortality in India, but it is essential to ensure that such facilities leave minimal carbon footprints. (Photo by Nick Cunard)

Everybody talks about the impact of climate change on health. Few talk about the impact of health facilities on climate change. There is quite a bit that can be done to reduce the second impact.

A key goal of India’s flagship National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) of 2005 is to minimise “time to care”, by ensuring that adequate infrastructure is available at the Primary Health Centre (PHC) level. That means many more PHCs have to be built.

The Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS), released in 2012, recognised energy as critical in the building of this infrastructure. The Rural Health Statistics 2015 indicate that states like Jharkhand have about 42% PHCs that do not access to electricity. Further analysis of the District Level Household & Facility Survey 4 data indicates that almost 50% of the PHCs across the country are plagued by either no electricity or unreliable power supply, hindering the provision of essential services such as deliveries, emergency care, vaccine storage, and neonatal critical care, among others.

The solar solution

In a February 2016 report, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) has shown that a 6-8 kWp off-grid solar system can power a PHC to provide essential services. This further led to the launch of the Initiative for Solar in Healthcare, a memorandum of understanding between the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and CEEW in June 2016, with the objective of providing effective healthcare delivery at the last mile by reducing uncertainty in critical infrastructure, particularly electricity supply, via cost effective solar-based solutions. This collaboration will bring together synergies between the objective of time to care as mandated in the National Health Mission (NHM) and clean energy as outlined under the National Solar Mission (NSM).

One of India’s key goals is Power for All, which stands on the fundamental principles of connecting all households to the grid and providing 24×7 power. While households are connected to the grid, the same principles need to be extended towards community services, such as education and health, and productive applications, such as home based industries and small retail shops, to realise fully the investment we make in electrification. The entire value chain from household to community services to productive applications of electricity is critical for energy to act as a true enabler of economic development.

Energy and healthcare

Energy can also promote preventive healthcare. It can be used to purify water, vital in a country where the majority of illnesses and deaths of children under five is due to water-borne diseases. Access to energy and therefore to fans allows people to keep doors and windows closed, thus keeping mosquitoes and flies away. Home cooling is becoming even more important as heat waves get worse due to climate change.

So it not just in health facilities – energy use is slated to go up across every sector in India. And the only sustainable way to do this is to use renewable energy.

Air pollution

The recent smog in Delhi and poor air quality has also underlined the need for integrated planning approaches. With the recognition of air pollution and its impacts on human health, which account for more than 600,000 deaths annually in India, there is an urgent need to address this with a multi-sectoral approach.

Air pollution is not just a problem of transport, or power plants, or agricultural burning. All these contribute in different proportions depending on the geography and practices followed in different parts of the country. If we are to reduce the number of deaths from air pollution, we need to ensure that health outcomes form a critical part of smart cities planning, of sustainable transport solutions, and of energy system transformations.

Healthy lives, healthy planet

“Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” is key among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). A related vital target is to keep our planet healthy. We can go a long way towards that by ensuring that existing and upcoming health facilities in India minimise their carbon footprints by using renewable energy. Simultaneously, we have to encourage every home to use renewable energy as far as possible. That is the only way to built a resilient healthcare system that aims for universal health coverage with better financial inclusion, access to quality health services and most importantly, the need for strategic risk management of national and global health risks.

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