The importance of energy in improving maternal and child health in Africa

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The African Development Bank's (AfDB) Annual Meetings 2014 commenced in Kigali on May 19. A ministerial visit to healthcare centres in a rural area was organised to coincide with this event. The visit highlighted the importance of rural electrification through the use of renewable energy sources. Electrification of remote healthcare centres is particularly important in efforts to improve maternal and child health across Africa. The link between energy and maternal and child health is the core theme of the first two years of "Sustainable Energy for All" (SE4ALL) Decade (2014-2024), a decade launched in Africa at the AfDB's Annual Meetings.

Solar panels have now been installed on the roof of a healthcare centre in Kigogo, a rural village nestling in the high mountains of Gicumbi, a district located some 50 kilometres from Kigali, in the north of Rwanda. In the past, pregnant women used to have to travel long distances to receive appropriate medical care. Prior to electrification, the healthcare centre was not able to operate at night due to a lack of electricity.

"In the past, the situation was very tricky. The majority of pregnant women from the region preferred to be referred to a central hospital for fear of possible complications if they went into labour at night," explains Dancilla Mukanambaje, a mother of five who lives near the Kigogo healthcare centre.

On similar lines, the Rwandan Minister for Health, Agnès Binagwaho, has stated that a lack of electricity was preventing healthcare providers from using certain equipment, such as vaccine and blood preservation systems, as well as laboratory analysis machines. "Energy and access to energy services are directly linked to the economic and social well-being of women and children. For the benefit of all, we must end energy poverty in our continent," explained Kandeh Yumkella, UN Special Representative and Chief Executive of SE4ALL.

The SE4ALL initiative was launched by the UN Secretary-General. It aims to achieve three key objectives by 2030: Ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Some 80 governments have signed up to the initiative, including 42 African countries. The AfDB has hosted the Africa Hub of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative since May 2013.

Official statistics show that, in Rwanda, the renewable energies sector is still dominated by hydroelectric dams. This is in a country of the Great Lakes where only around 18% of the population has access to energy. The Rwandan Minister for Energy and Water, Emma Françoise Isumbingabo, explained that the Government is working hard to achieve its target of electrifying 70% of the country by 2017.

AfDB experts estimate that it will be necessary to mobilise $20 billion per year, in addition to current investment levels, in order to achieve the goal of universal access to energy in Africa by 2030. "It is certainly one of the challenges to be faced as the AfDB prepares to celebrate 50 years of its existence," declared Daniel Schroth, SE4ALL Africa Hub Coordinator in Africa.