Solar-powered healthcare in Nepal

February 23, 2021

Access to energy improves local healthcare services

For many people living in remote and rural communities in Nepal, a lack of reliable power prevents them from accessing the healthcare they need, when they need it. This is one of the issues that Renewable World is currently tackling, and for which solar power provides an ideal solution.

Through the stories of three people, find out the obstacles and limitations that are faced when your local health centre has no electricity, as well as the difference that energy can make to healthcare provision.

Hima Rana struggled to access basic medical support while pregnant

A close-up photo of Hima Rana standing outside a health post

My house is located two minutes from the health post, but I had to walk for two hours while I was pregnant for my check-ups and vaccinations.” Hima Rana, Panditkalna village

Hima Rana lives with her husband and eight children in the village of Panditkalna, in the mid hills of Nepal. Despite living just a stone’s throw from her small community health post, Hima had to walk for two hours to access basic medical support and check-ups while she was pregnant. Her local health post has limited resources and does not offer basic pregnancy check-up services, this is why she had to walk many miles along difficult terrain to access the care she needed during her eight pregnancies.

When Hima’s babies were born, her local health post didn’t have the vaccines they needed. So again, she had walk for two hours with each newborn to get them vaccinated. Many mothers are unable to make the journey, so vaccinations are often missed or late. Hima told us, “I gave birth to eight children but never visited my local heath post even once during my pregnancy, even when my house is located right below the health post.”

Deepa Bakabal manages a health post with no access to electricity

Deepa Bakabal is the Manager of Panditkalna Community Health Post (Hima Rana’s local health post). She told us about the limited services her health post could provide due to a lack of electricity.

A close-up photo of Deepa Bakabal sitting inside the health post

We do not have basic equipment in the health post, such as nebulizers and sterilizers, due to a lack of electricity. We provide only the most basic medicine for conditions such as diarrhoea, headache and fever. For more complex ailments, patients must travel to Mehelkuna Hospital which is a two-hour walk away.” Deepa Bakabal, Health Post Manager at Panditkalna Community Health Post

As well as providing basic medicines, the health post is also expected to provide vaccines to children under five and pregnant women, however this too comes with its own challenges. Most vaccines need to be kept within a particular temperature range and need to be stored in a fridge or cool box. During the summer months, temperatures in Nepal’s mid-hills can rise to over 30°C, meaning there is a high risk of vaccines spoiling. Without electricity, health posts like Deepa’s are unable to run a fridge and safely store a supply of vaccines. Deepa told us that even though the local municipality is ready to provide the health post with energy-enabled equipment, this equipment is useless without access to an electricity supply.

Treatment of a wound being carried out using the light of a mobile phone in Khanikhola Health Post.

Bhuwan Poudel manages a health post with solar power

Contrast this with Chepang Community Health Post. Since the installation of a stand-alone solar system and refrigerator, the health post is now able to provide more comprehensive health services to the community. It can now store vaccines in the refrigerator and operate vital electronic equipment such as nebulizers and sterilizers.

Bhuwan Poudel has managed the Chepang Health Post for the past four years. He shared with us the difference that this has made to the community.

Bhuwan Poudel stands in front of Chepang Health Post

Up until last year, the health post had no access to electricity. Staff and patients faced a lot of difficulties and storing vaccines was impossible due to lack of electricity. I was unable to do much for the community other than provide very basic care due to a lack of resources. Community members would visit other health posts, a two-hour car ride away, to get care.” Bhuwan Poudel, Health Post Manager, Chepang

Now, after the installation of solar power by Renewable World and local partners Sundar Nepal Sanstha (BNA Nepal), the situation has completely changed. With the installation of solar panels and the refrigerator, essential vaccines can be kept safe and cool. The health post also has access to the internet, meaning it’s now very quick and easy for them to send reports and place orders. The health post is also seeing a higher number of patients from the community.

Bhuwan happily told usthe people of this community use the health post more now, we also try to treat the patients as much as possible with the resources we have, and we refer the patients to the hospital now only in case of emergency and serious problems.”

The stand-alone solar system installed on the roof of Chepang Health Post.

Electrifying health posts in remote off-grid areas

These three stories all come from two projects that Renewable World is currently implementing in Nepal, projects that collectively aim to electrify 15 health posts in extremely remote and off-grid areas of Nepal, improving local healthcare provision for over 17,751 people.

The simple but life-saving intervention of equipping health posts with small, stand-alone solar systems means that these posts can finally power a refrigerator and other life-saving equipment that needs a constant source of electricity. The result is an overnight expansion of the range of basic care available to communities such as Bhuwan’s.

Bhuwan is already seeing the benefits that solar power and access to electricity can have on local healthcare provision. Hima and Deepa will soon see those benefits too once the solar system is installed in Panditkalna Community Health Post.

These two projects are being implemented in coordination with local government, who will provide operations and maintenance funding. After the solar system is installed, training will be provided to health post staff to make sure they have the skills to carry out regular maintenance of the system. Whilst 70% of the population in Nepal is connected to the national grid, it is often the most remote and isolated rural communities that are ignored and forgotten. For now, off-grid power services are their best option and especially important in these worrying COVID-19 times. Having easy access to a fridge for vaccinations and a nebulizer for breathing difficulties is critical to help beat the virus. 

Renewable World and our partners are proud to support local communities to build their resilience through better equipped local health posts. But much remains to be done. You can support further work like this by making a donation today.