Solar Energy is Paving the Way for Better Healthcare in Haiti

A photovoltaic solar power system at a Partners in Health clinic in Haiti (Source: Solar World)

With Worldwatch’s Energy Roadmaps for the Caribbean work in Haiti, the Institute plans to create a comprehensive report that will become resourceful to the Haitian government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti, and other domestic stakeholders in transitioning the present energy system to one less dependent on fossil fuels in the future. Another goal of Worldwatch’s work is to complement the existing work of other NGOs in Haiti to advance economic and infrastructural growth for a country in much need of development. Highlighted below are some of the projects other NGOs are working on to ensure sustained public health services in Haiti.

In modern medicine, electricity provides the backbone for any functional medical center. In a country where the infection rates of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) are extraordinarily high, electricity is essential for medical technologies such as lab analysis, medical equipment, and diagnostic testing at hospitals and clinics. An estimated 1.9 percent of Haitian adults live with HIV, while out of every 100,000 Haitians, 306 are infected with TB. Moreover, vaccines that help to prevent other communicable diseases, such as pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus, require refrigeration as they need to be kept below room temperature.

Haiti’s immensely unreliable electricity grid and its high dependence on diesel generators have been impediments to the improvement of its fractured healthcare system. In 2007, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program in Haiti requested the expertise of a team of engineers and energy specialists from the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) energy program to assess the impact of Haiti’s poor energy infrastructure on the nation’s ability to treat HIV/AIDS patients. According to the report released in 2008 by USAID’s energy team, “Many health facilities receive only a few hours of power per day with prolonged outages of up to a month not uncommon in some locations.” Upon soliciting USAID’s help, PEPFAR cited that,  Haiti’s unreliable energy services lower the nation’s ability to store “cold chain dependent blood, laboratory reagents and HIV rapid test kits” and can lead to “damage to laboratory equipment and jeopardize the accuracy of sensitive laboratory tests.”

USAID published a report, Powering Health: Electrification Options for Rural Health Centers, in 2010 as a resource for public health professionals, particularly for those in developing countries whose intent is to provide more reliable energy services to their health facilities. In this document, USAID discussed the use of photovoltaic (PV) systems as an option for providing electricity.  Subsequently, USAID provided workshops and training sessions to equip Haitian hospital technicians with this knowledge. The table linked below is an excerpt from the USAID publication; it categorizes health clinics by their energy demand and describes the cost estimates for the adoption of particular energy technologies. Health Clinic Energy Needs

Since 2006, Partners in Health (PIH) – a non-profit health care organization working in Haiti – has collaborated with an international development aid organization, Solar Energy Light Fund (SELF), to bring solar PV power to the country’s hospitals and clinics. Harnessing solar energy has played a key role in providing electricity to rural areas and their health clinics, often located in mountainous regions of Haiti. Solar installations in the rural communities of Boucan Carre, Thomonde, and La Colline, as well as one at a women’s health clinic in Lascahobas (combined capacity of 85 kW of solar power in all four clinics), have all benefited from the work of these organizations. SELF reported about the PV installation at the Boucan Carré clinic, “Not only did this system secure critical loads and improve health care at the clinic, but it also significantly reduced PIH’s need to run a diesel generator for power.” PIH was able to reduce its diesel imports by 7 barrels per month, a reduction of 64 percent. The successes of PIH, SELF, and USAID illustrate how solar energy, in addition to other forms of renewable energy, can greatly benefit Haitian health development by decreasing clinics’ dependence on fossil fuels and shielding clinics from an unreliable electricity grid.

Last year’s cholera outbreak left 6,000 dead and another 300,000 cases of the illness further crippled the Haitian economy and its workforce. As Worldwatch has previously written, the impact of the outbreak could have been curtailed with better sanitation achieved through greater and a more reliable supply of electricity, providing yet another example of how vital electricity is to Haiti’s health care system.

Utilizing renewable energy resources like solar, wind, hydro, and biomass can help sustain a healthy population that is contingent on the availability of public health services, as these services ultimately depend on access to reliable electricity. Paul Farmer, PIH’s co-founder and a noted doctor and public health pioneer in Haiti, put it simply, “Solar energy saves lives.”

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