STANFIELD, Oregon — On April 28, 2022, the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Power Africa announced a new alliance that will help fund electricity to health care facilities in remote regions of sub-Saharan Africa. The Healthcare Electrification and Telecommunication Alliance adds additional efforts to Power Africa’s current programs and accomplishments in providing up-to-date, sustainable energy to all of Africa.
Electricity and Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa
High quality, accessible and sustainable power is important for improving the livelihoods of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Providing electricity to households, health care facilities and other businesses will help improve the general quality of life, reduce food and monetary poverty and increase access to education while advancing gender equality.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rate of access to electricity of all world regions. About 43% of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity compared to 87% of the global population, according to data published in 2019. The number of people in Africa without access to electricity has risen over the past couple of decades as the birth rate has surpassed electrical energy system expansions.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include access to energy as an integral part of achieving global goals and ending global poverty. SDG 7 reads: “By 2030, ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Electricity needs to not only be accessible but must also be of a substantial-quality that is both affordable for everyone and economically sustainable to help eradicate extreme poverty. Africa is currently not on track to meet this particular United Nations’ 2030 goal.
Additional Barriers to Electrification
Access to electricity is not the only barrier for the region; most energy systems in the region are also unreliable and expensive. The cost of electricity in most of sub-Saharan Africa is more than twice the cost of electricity in the United States and four times more expensive in some countries in the region, such as Liberia. Therefore, most households cannot afford electricity, even if it is accessible.
Nigeria, for example, has nearly a 100% electricity coverage rate, but less than 20% of Nigerian households have electricity “at least most of the time.” The rate of access to electricity in Africa was 43% in 2016, which is about the same rate as the United States in 1921 when manufacturing began booming in the country. Electricity outages are a common occurrence for businesses and households in sub-Saharan Africa.
Low-income households with little or no access to electricity have to spend more time and money than wealthier households with better energy access “to meet their basic energy needs.” They are also at risk of enduring lower quality of health and reduced productivity due to the unhealthy and time-consuming nature of unimproved cooking facilities, such as wood-burning stoves.
Healthcare Electrification and Telecommunication Alliance
The Healthcare Electrification and Telecommunication Alliance will help supply health care facilities across sub-Saharan Africa with sustainable, reliable and affordable energy access. The Alliance is a part of President Joe Biden’s “global infrastructure initiative.” More than 30 large companies, government leaders, and institutions have joined the Alliance. Some members include UNICEF, Shell Foundation, CDC Foundation, Chevron, Bechtel and World Vision. In the next 10 years, the Alliance aims to electrify and connect 10,000 health care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa.
Power Africa, launched in 2013, provides Africans with access to electricity by overseeing projects and providing advisors to local African governments to help connect all citizens to electricity. According to the organization, electrifying Africa will require more financing than African and foreign government aid can provide, so Power Africa works to lower investment risks to encourage private and public entities to invest in its programs. Power Africa aims to not only electrify Africa but also help reform the systems and institutions that will continue to keep energy accessible and affordable in the future.
Accomplishments of Power Africa
Through its existing off-grid projects, Power Africa has already provided electricity to 227 health facilities that serve more than 2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2021, Power Africa helped fund solar energy for seven health facilities in Malawi and Uganda.
In 2021, Power Africa joined a group of organizations to launch a Multilateral Energy Compact for Health Facility Electrification. This Compact aims to provide sustainable energy to 25,000 health facilities by the year 2025.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Power Africa directed funding to help provide energy for sub-Saharan health care facilities and off-grid sectors.
Reliable electricity in health care institutions will help the facilities provide sufficient COVID-19 care, vaccinations, HIV/AIDS and TB treatments and family health care, among other necessary health care operations. Electrifying and connecting these institutions will allow them to communicate faster and easier and access reliable digital record-keeping. Health care facilities need constant, affordable electricity to improve and modernize sub-Saharan African health care and save lives.
– Melissa Hood