[op-ed snap] Powering rural healthcare

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Indian Public Health Standards, National Health Policy, etc.

Mains level: The article talks about an interesting connection between renewable energy and Indian health care system. The UPSC is known to ask questions on these type of issues. Very important.


News

What is the issue?

  1. Around 38 million Indians rely on health facilities without electricity
  2. Without access to regular power supply, numerous life-saving interventions cannot be undertaken

‘Powering Primary Healthcare through Solar in India: Lessons from Chhattisgarh’

  1. It is a study published by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)
  2. It has evaluated 147 primary healthcare centres (PHCs) across 15 districts in Chhattisgarh
    HIGHLIGHTS OF THE STUDY
  3. It highlights the role of solar energy in bridging the gaps in electricity access in rural healthcare facilities
  4. The Rural Health Statistics 2016 data has found, of the functional PHCs, 4.6% are not electrified
  5. The fourth round of District Level Household and Facility Survey data indicates that one in every two PHCs in rural India is either unelectrified or suffers from irregular power supply
  6. Positive part: The CEEW study found that the solar-powered PHCs in Chhattisgarh admitted over 50% more patients
  7. And conducted almost twice the number of child deliveries in a month compared to the power-deficit PHCs without a solar system
  8. The ability of solar-powered PHCs to maintain cold chains to store vaccines and drugs and operate new-born care equipment has significantly improved

How can renewable power sources help in this situation?

  1. They could help PHCs augment or even substitute traditional grid-based power systems
  2. It can facilitate reliable and uninterrupted electricity supply critical for 24/7 emergency services, deliveries and neonatal care, as well as inpatient and outpatient services

Continuous power supply has improved efficiency of PHCs in Chhattisgarh

  1. Continuous electricity supply must be ensured to cold chains at PHCs, especially in rural Chhattisgarh, which has an infant mortality rate that is higher than the average for rural India
  2. Further, patients showed more willingness to get admitted for treatment at the solar-powered PHCs due to facilities like running fans
  3. Also, 90% of PHCs with solar systems reported cost savings due to lower electricity bills or reduced expenditure on diesel

Can solar systems be scaled up in Rural India?

  1. Scaling-up solar-powered systems across PHCs in rural India is dependent on three factors
    FIRST
  2. To recognise the critical nature of electricity access in the entire health system infrastructure
  3. The Indian Public Health Standards has set minimum service-level benchmarks for all activities of PHCs, indicating that every PHC should have power supply with a back-up option
  4. The National Health Policy 2017 reiterates the commitment to improve primary healthcare by strengthening infrastructure
    SECOND
  5. The second is the ability to adapt solar systems around the local needs and considerations of PHCs including the burden of disease, weather, terrain, and power availability
    THIRD
  6. There must be a focus on making ‘Solar for Health’ a national priority

The way forward

  1. Significant opportunities exist to simultaneously address the multisectoral goals of energy access, energy security, resource management, and health outcomes
  2. Solar power for healthcare in Chhattisgarh is a crucial opportunity
  3. With evidence that scaling this initiative can meet national and regional ambitions for energy access and improved health outcomes
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.
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