The power needed to stamp out coronavirus
The twin global goals of effectively responding to COVID-19 and bringing power to hundreds of millions of people lacking electricity and cooling infrastructure are converging.
Why it matters: "Reliable power is critical for effective responses to COVID-19 and other diseases," states a Brookings Institution piece.
Where it stands: Roughly 790 million people lacked electricity access as of 2018, per a late May analysis from the World Bank, World Health Organization and other bodies.
- That annual report on progress toward UN energy access goals notes that COVID-19 has "further accentuated the need for reliable, affordable access" in health care facilities.
- And as we've noted before, some places in Africa and Asia with access are often beset by unreliable or intermittent supplies.
How it works: Reliable electricity is needed along the entire testing, treatment and eventual vaccination chain.
- Power is needed for diagnostics on active infections, ventilator treatments, cleaning equipment and other key services in health care facilities, Brookings points out.
- "[P]owering a cold chain will be critical to delivering a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available," they write.
- Vaccines can be ruined when refrigerated storage units lose power, while "last mile electrification" is needed for distribution.
The big picture: A suite of efforts are planned or underway to improve care and eventual treatment of the pandemic as well as future illnesses, in regions with limited or absent energy access. A few...
- It's firmly on the radar screen of the World Bank-led Energy Sector Management Assistance Program.
- The bank's Makhtar Diop notes efforts are underway to mobilize donors to help sub-Saharan African governments electrify health care facilities with solar and battery tech.
- The International Renewable Energy Agency and the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific are working to help rural health centers.
- Go deeper: Duke University's Rob Fetter, who co-authored the Brookings piece, pointed me toward this COVID-19 roundup posted by the group Power for All, which works to expand electricity access via decentralized renewables.
The bottom line: "Remedying electricity access in health facilities in response to COVID-19 brings us a step closer to ending the vicious cycle of panic and neglect in preventing deadly diseases," the Brookings analysis notes.
Zoom in: The multi-agency report on global power access highlights the energy hurdles facing health centers in developing nations.
What they did: The report compiles survey data on health care facilities in a subset of countries (as shown above).
What they found: "In every country analyzed, the power supply is compromised by unscheduled interruptions and voltage fluctuations," they find.
- "Twenty-five percent of health facilities reported that unscheduled outages affect the capacity to deliver essential health services."
- "Damage to equipment caused by poor-quality connections and frequent voltage fluctuations are also constraints for 28 percent of health centers."