The reliability of unconventional sources of energy in public healthcare delivery in rural Zambia: the case of solar energy in Mumbwa district

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Mtonga, Betty
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University of Zambia
Electricity has over the years played an important role in influencing development in almost, if not all, areas of life, including healthcare delivery. Access to reliable electricity plays a cardinal role in healthcare delivery and is deemed as an important determinant for providing quality healthcare. Despite electricity being recognized as an essential input necessary for good healthcare delivery, literature shows that only 25 percent of the Zambian population is connected to hydroelectricity, out of which 20.7 percent are urban connections and 4.3 percent are rural connections. Because of the low electrification rate, unconventional sources of energy, such as Solar Photovoltaic(PV), have been adopted, especially in rural areas with very low electrification rates. The study sought to investigate the reliability of unconventional energy, Solar PV, used in rural healthcare facilities, particularly rural health facilities in Mumbwa District. The study specifically sought to examine the affordability and continuity of healthcare delivery using Solar PV energy sources in rural healthcare facilities as well as to identify challenges they faced using this source of energy for healthcare delivery. The research was a case study of Mumbwa District which used semi-structured researcher administered questionnaires for end-users and healthcare facility personnel. Interview guides were used to collect primary data from key informants. A total of 116 research instruments were administered with a response rate of 98 percent. The respondents were as follows 85 percent end users, eight percent healthcare personnel, and seven percent key informants, comprising the District Medical Officer, The District Technician and an Engenderer from Rural Electrification Authority (REA). Qualitative data collected from open ended questionnaires and interview guides were analysed using content analysis methods while quantitative data collected from closed ended questionnaires were analysed using Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) and Excel. The study identified that: none of the rural healthcare facilities had complete Solar PV systems to facilitate the production and storage of sufficient Solar PV energy for healthcare delivery. None of the rural healthcare facilities had a resident electrical technician on site to handle any faults that the systems encountered nor does conduct necessary maintenance checks on the Solar PV systems. Most of the healthcare facilities could not make use of important medical equipment such as autoclave and suction machines because of insufficient energy production. Replacement of Solar PV system equipment and inability to provide night time services were among the major challenges faced by RHCs using Solar PV as a primary source of energy. Based on the findings, all District Medical Offices (DMOs) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) should ensure that solar PV system capacities are increased and properly maintained by recruiting more technicians who should be readily available on cite for maintenance and attend to faults whenever they occur at the Rural Healthcare Facilities. Additionally, MOH must ensure that healthcare staff houses are also equipped with Solar PV systems so as to prevent healthcare personnel from tempering with the healthcare facility‟s solar PV system so as to ensure a longer lifespan of the Solar PV equipment. Key Words: RuralHealthcare Delivery, Solar PV Energy, Energy and Health
Rural Healthcare , Solar PV Energy , Energy and Health