Clean and Renewable Electricity to the rescue – How solar electricity is improving health services in conflict affected communities of Borno State.

For more than ten years, Borno State has been locked in an intractable conflict fueled by the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents. This fragile situation has heavily impacted on the access to energy by households and institutions in the State. One of the most affected is the health institutions. Prior to the escalation of the crisis, the health sector in Borno State, just like in many other States in Nigeria, had  been in dire need of urgent interventions, especially, access to electricity. The over decade long insurgency has further exacerbated the plight of the health institutions and access to electricity has further declined. Several hospitals, health centers and clinics operate without access to both the national grid and self generated power. While many of the health institutions have had their grid supply destroyed as a result of the conflict, some have never had a power supply since the commencement of operations.

This situation presents a precarious and anxious moment to those who are already traumatized by the effects of the conflict. Women and children are the worst hit. Many times, pregnant women are left to deliver at home because they do not have access to health facilities especially at night. Many hospitals, clinics and health centers do not provide after-dark services due to lack of electricity. . So, women who are unfortunate to go into labour in the night are left at home, or at the mercy of, most times, poorly trained traditional midwives. At many other times, women in labour, who are fortunate to access health facilities during the night, are attended to with candles, torches and local oil lanterns. Postnatal care and immunization presents another challenge to women as they have to walk long distances to health centres that have the appropriate vaccine capabilities. This is tasking, as some of these women walk a distance of more than 20 kilometers to and from their homes. For those that can afford transportation, this could cost extra Naira, thereby depleting the meagre income that could be channeled into food.

The story is not different for the health workers, who swelter under intense heat to carry out their operations. Borno State has one of the highest temperature surges in Nigeria, which could trigger heat wave, and spike the outbreaks of meningitis and cholera. This condition does not encourage proper dedication to work, as workers, during hot season are disenchanted to come to work, or do not give adequate attention to their work.

In 2017, the International Center for Energy, Environment and Development in partnership with Mercy Corps and with funding from the European Commission commenced the Borno MAIDA Project. The project, among other outputs, will install 5KVA solar electricity systems in twelve health institutions in Biu, Hawul, Kwaya Kusar, Jere, Mafa, Bama and Gwoza LGAs of Borno State. The solar electricity is key to solving  the electricity crisis being faced by the health institutions in the state. It also provides a template on how solar electricity can enhance health service delivery across Nigeria. Till date 10 health centres have been provided with this life changing solar electricity and the testimonies are touching. For example, the Jiddari Primary Health Care, Galtimari, Jere Local Government Area, is a major health center within the community, and accounts for an average of 200 patients daily. The Center is connected to a national grid that supplies an average of 3 hours daily, when there is a supply, while an installed power generator rarely comes on, as a result of paucity of funds to purchase fuel.  Now, the Center has an installed 5KVA solar system that has helped in powering all the lighting points in staff offices, wards and the surrounding environment. The hospital now comfortably runs its night shift with full assurance that the power supply will be constant.  At Kaleri Clinic and Maternity, Kaleri, Mafa Local Government Area, despite being a holding hub for immunization drugs within the area, power supply was a huge concern for the facility. It has been so difficult for the local government –the controlling tier of government- to pay the electricity bills, which has left the Center, mostly without power supply. Now, with the installed 5KVA solar system, their solar fridges for drug preservation are up and running. The Center can attend to women and children in the night with ease, and the outside security lights provide illumination to the surrounding environment during dark hours. At the Gwoza Primary Health Center, Gwoza Local Government Area, the drug room is fully energized using the solar system. The clinic’s wards, staff offices, outpatient department (OPD), and the clinic’s mosque are also energized. One common room with an air conditioner was also energized to provide a soothing ambience to both staff and patients during intense heat. Workers now have uninterrupted power supply, while patients in the ward also have access to adequate lighting during the night

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Each of the beneficiary institutions  does not only have a unique testimony of the transformative changes that have occurred in their service delivery, but have seen a clear signpost of how a fundamental issue like energy poverty is being addressed.