The signatories were from various think-tanks, research groups, renewable energy firms, sustainable development organisations, industry associations, and healthcare services
New Delhi: Twenty leaders from across the country in an open letter released on Thursday have called for action to make all unelectrified healthcare clinics in rural areas solarised.
The signatories were from various think-tanks, research groups, renewable energy firms, sustainable development organisations, industry associations, and healthcare services.
“The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has highlighted several existing systemic gaps in services, especially to the rural poor. Inadequate healthcare infrastructure is one of them. Over 39,000 sub-centres — the first point of contact between primary healthcare system and the community — serving 230 million people in rural India lack electricity. This severely impacts their capacity to offer optimal healthcare to patients,” the letter read.
It further added that decentralised renewable energy could play a significant role in solving this problem quickly and affordably — for less than Rs 30 per person in initial capital expenditure.
The signatories urged the central and state governments, and the international development community to support their steps outlined in the letter.
On expanding solarisation of clinics, the letter suggested, “The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s (MNRE) off-grid and decentralised solar PV applications programme should take the learnings from Chhattisgarh and accelerate the deployment of renewable energy to power all unelectrified PHCs and sub-centres at a national scale.”
It added that this initiative should be included in the national Budget, which currently includes a combined $12.8 billion for renewable energy and healthcare.
“Given a per sub-centre benchmark cost of Rs 74 per watt for solar PV system with three-hour storage, India can electrify all sub-centres for Rs 6 billion, which is only 0.6 per cent of the 2020-21 energy and healthcare Budget,” the letter said.
It suggested that long-term operations should be ensured and added that Budget must also be set aside for ongoing operations and maintenance to ensure sustainability beyond the current five-year warranty periods.
“Sustainable health infrastructure that leverages innovative , decentralised and energy efficient solutions will bring huge dividends for health in rural India. Transitioning to renewable energies across healthcare operations will ensure efficient service delivery and improved health outcomes,” said Dr. Poornima Prabhakaran, deputy director, Centre for Environmental Health, PHFI, one of the signatories of the letter.
On promotion of innovative techniques, it said that most medical equipment available on the market were highly inefficient in terms of power usage, increasing the financial burden on rural clinics. Hence, manufacturers must be incentivised to develop more efficient, ruggedised appliances suitable for rural healthcare services.
“The enhancements being planned in the rural health infrastructure in the aftermath of the COVID-19 breakout accords a unique opportunity to direct critical public funding towards electrifying the PHC infrastructure rapidly through DRE installations – for around Rs 600-crore investment, 40,000-odd currently un-electrified sub-centres and PHCs can have a secure source of power and be equipped adequately for necessary functions,” said Upendra Bhatt, co-founder & managing director, cKinetics, another signatory.
The letter has been sent to the health ministry, the National Centre for Disease Control, the National Health Systems Resource Centre, MNRE, power ministry, and NITI Aayog.