Energy and Women’s Health


Energy is a critical enabler for vital primary health care services, especially during maternal and childbirth emergencies. Without electricity, mothers in childbirth are particularly at risk. While maternal mortality has declined in the past 20 years, the international community still has farther to go to save lives and ensure that health workers are given the tools and facilities they need to provide effective medical care. Electricity is needed for basic lighting, vaccine storage, access to clean water, equipment sterilization, and to power other essential equipment. Yet many clinics, hospitals, and workers do not have access to the power they need: The World Health Organization recently found that up to 58 percent of health care facilities in Sub-Saharan African countries have no electricity at all.

High-Impact Opportunity: Energy and Women’s Health

In brief: The goal of this high impact opportunity is to increase access to, and the effective and sustained use of, energy-dependent health services, with a particular emphasis on women in low- and middle-income countries.

Impact: In rural and peri-urban medical clinics, providing basic access to adequate and continuous lighting combined with basic medical equipment, such as a fetal heart rate monitor, can be a lifesaving measure for many women. Unlike many other medical procedures, childbirth cannot wait until morning: in 2010, an estimated 287,000 women died of complications from pregnancy and childbirth; many of these deaths can be averted with the provision of minimal lighting and appliance operating services. When better lighting and power is introduced, health workers report fewer delays in providing life-saving care, more timely blood transfusions, and more successful child deliveries, along with improved morale of the patient as well as the health service provider.

Modern energy services are also critical to achieving improved diagnosis and treatment of certain infectious diseases where women may be underserved, such as tuberculosis. Energy is needed to expand services for preventing and treating the rising levels of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) too. These include the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, cervical cancer, and other NCDs where women have a particularly heavy burden.

Decentralized sustainable energy solutions, coupled with energy efficiency measures, can give health workers in remote areas the means to do their jobs effectively – reliable energy services for lighting in patients’ homes, nighttime diagnosis and care, charging cell phones for communications and data gathering purposes, and for their own safety as they navigate communities after dark.

While this high impact opportunity area will focus primarily on the link between energy and women's health, any progress made on the electrification of health facilities will also bring an even wider range of health benefits across the entire population. The impacts of this HIO are expected to have positive results beyond women’s health.

Strategy: This High-Impact Opportunity will be carried out across three phases:

  1. Mapping, Planning and Mobilization Phase (2013-2014),
  2. Piloting Phase (2015-2018), and
  3. Scale-Up Phase (2019-2030); targeting effective access to energy at all health facilities by 2030.

Progress in these phases will require the mobilization of resources to finance the electrification of health facilities globally. An essential first step will be to document the improved health benefits from increased access to modern energy services, securing the case for better availability and use of energy-dependent health services.

Mid-term, this initiative will seek the creation of public-private partnerships that combine support from national and international health and energy budgets with private-sector investment. Engagement of utilities will be critical to help craft and deliver the solutions appropriate to each circumstance, working closely with stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum to identify sustainable business models.

Long-term, this initiative will be scaled up to deliver the benefits of universal access to modern energy services in health facilities. This will save lives and improve health outcomes for women and their families, improve performance at facilities ranging from local clinics to district health centers to larger hospitals, and equip health-care workers with energy-dependent solutions that are well maintained over time.

Some of the deliverables of this high-impact opportunity include:

  • Mapping the market: Understand the existing gap in access to energy-dependent health care services (both for prevention and treatment).
  • Securing evidence for guiding intervention design: Engage the health sector in assessing the gap in energy-related services critical to women’s health.
  • Supply chains and maintenance: Develop public-private partnerships to encourage good design and mobilize financing for installation.
  • Building local and national capacity: Establish appropriate system design, maintenance and repair requirements to train local electricians, mechanics and engineers.
  • Advocacy and media: Mobilize public/private energy sector linkages with the health sector and catalyze support and action for identified policies/investments to close the energy gap in healthcare, as well as catalyzing sustainable energy service installations in medical clinics.

Sustainable Energy for All’s Value Add:

  • Provide a unique opportunity to address the nexus between energy and women’s health in a tangible, scalable, sustainable way through a concerted multi-stakeholder effort. Solutions are available that touch on all three objectives of the initiative – universal access to modern energy services, increased use of renewable energy, and improved energy efficiency.
  • Prioritize an inter-ministerial approach, particularly involving the ministries of health, energy, women’s affairs, and finance, to advocate for the inclusion of specific energy and women’s health targets within national energy plans and to channel government action. This provides support to countries that have chosen to pursue Sustainable Energy for All’s objectives.
  • Stimulate economic growth and provide business opportunities for sustainable energy services within health facilities globally. For example, for energy innovators, health care represents a large customer base with substantial purchasing power that can accelerate the deployment of sustainable energy technologies.

Highlights of High Impact Initiatives:

The United Nations Foundation, the World Health Organization and UN Women are co-leading and developing this High-Impact Opportunity and reaching out to a number of partners to solidify supporting initiatives.

For more information on this HIO, please contact:
Jem Porcaro, Co-Lead, United Nations Foundation,
Dr. Carlos Dora, World Health Organization,
Tacko Ndiaye, UN Women,