By ensuring reliable electric supply through decentralised solar photovoltaic installations, Chhattisgarh in central India has boosted public healthcare outcomes

Neonatal care has improved in rural areas of Chhattisgarh due to decentralised solar energy (Photo by CREDA)

Not too long ago, babies were born and emergency surgeries were conducted under candlelight at Mandir Hasaud primary health centre (PHC) in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh in central India. Being located in the remote area of Arang block, power supply was insufficient and erratic.

Due to unavailability of medical services fuelled by lack of electricity supply, people were forced to travel long distances to district hospitals. But things changed in 2013, when Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA) installed solar panels on the rooftop of the medical facility, ensuring round-the-clock power supply.

“Our area is far off from main cities, so there was no power. It was difficult to take up critical cases and deliveries, especially in the night. We had to send patients and mothers to other medical institutions, but ever since solar came, we are now doing 70-80 deliveries per month,” Naveen Nagtode, Superintendent of Mandir Hasaud PHC, told indiacimatedialogue.net.

Hospitals need continuous water supply to fight infections. Due to lack of power, even water availability was affected. The PHC is now also able to contribute meaningfully in neonatal care and children vaccine programme.

“Earlier, we couldn’t run cold chain needed to preserve vaccines in low temperatures. Through solar power, we are able to maintain their quality and potency. We also upload the entire data of treatments and medication administered to various patients online thanks to the power. So now, there is proper record of each and every patient who walks into the facility,” Said Nagtode, who is also the pharmacist at the PHC. “Due to darkness, female staff didn’t used to seek employment here. Now there is no such problem. In fact, the health centre functions for 24/7 hours now.”

This is just one of the many primary and community health centres that have been powered through solar under an initiative run by the state-owned CREDA. Primary health centres are the first stop for diagnosis and treatment and it is crucial to provide the basic electricity infrastructure to maintain the backbone of healthcare in India.

Chhattisgarh has 169 community and 793 primary government-run health centres. Out of these, 146 community and 592 PHCs have been electrified through solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. In all, 75% of the health centres have been electrified with a cumulative solar capacity of 3.5 MW. CREDA’s solar initiative has transformed the health services at the grassroots level in the state.

A solar-powered primary health centre in Chhattisgarh (Photo by CREDA)

“Initially, about 15 years back (after the formation of the state), our target was for electrification of remote unelectrified villages through solar PV plants under Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) scheme. During the course of implementation, we found that the health centres and other public buildings in villages were not being covered, as these were in the scope of health and education department. We approached the health department to support for installation of solar plants in the health centres on the pilot basis, where there was no electricity or where power supply was erratic, to ensure electricity 24X7 and for energy security for health services,” Sanjeev Jain, Chief Engineer, CREDA, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “Based on successful installations and demand from field health staff, health department has continued this with central and state support.”

Remarkable results

The project has led to some remarkable results. An analysis done by Delhi-based think tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) showed that there was a 50% increase in the number of patients that got admitted once the health centres were powered by solar power. See: Solar power can transform healthcare outcomes in India

As much as 25% of power-deficit PHCs rely on solar as a backup to maintain cold chains for vaccines. Some 90% of PHCs reported savings from using solar PV versus diesel generators, resulting in reduction in electricity bills. Also, the number of child deliveries in a solar powered health centre was found to be two times the number of those in a power deficit health centre without solar.

“The lack of electrification means poor healthcare provision; evidence exists that demonstrates this. Solar power offers a potentially cost-effective way of reliably electrifying PHCs, bypassing unreliable centralised grids. This has been demonstrated by the Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency by investing in solar systems across all PHCs of the state,” said Hem Dholakia, Senior Research Associate, CEEW. “Health outcomes in PHCs with solar are significantly better than comparable PHCs without the system. There is potential to scale this up across the country towards meeting Sustainable development targets.”

The success of CREDA has caught international attention. The initiative has been chosen as a finalist for this year’s prestigious Ashden International Awards, a globally recognised measure for excellence in the field of green energy.

A total of INR 500 million (USD 7.42 million) has been spent to electrify 866 health centres across the state through solar power. PHCs are fitted with 2KW solar PV cells, while community health centres have been fitted with 8KW, with sufficient battery backup. These systems are decentralized, off-grid type where there is no grid connectivity, while they are connected with grid support at the health centres located in electrified locations.

CREDA now plans to install solar in 5,000 village cluster-level sub-health centres in Chhattisgarh. Providing functional and efficient healthcare to citizens is a must, and through its solar initiative, CREDA is ensuring health facilities reach till the last mile.

 

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