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Don’t just electrify remote health centers, equip and connect them!

By Yariv Cohen, Angaza Partner. Published on The New Times

When thinking of the global health and financial crisis that is not showing any signs of fading, two well-known sayings come to mind. The first, by Sir Winston Churchill, who said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. The second belongs to Vladimir Lenin, who said: “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen”.

Combining the two allows for a small moment of optimism (a relatively rare commodity these days). Based on this optimism, we can take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that come with the global crisis (and not let it “go to waste”), and moreover: we can do so in a very short time. In a reality where our lives have drastically changed in just a few weeks, the potential to disrupt reality and impact hundreds of millions in a few months becomes tangible.

The spread of the Covid-19 virus throughout the world brings countless challenges and difficulties, whether as individuals, business executives, or as government officials. It is our responsibility to focus our efforts on the opportunities that this time brings, and to expand our positive impact on those who need it the most, now more than ever before.

The greatest challenge of our time

The spread of the coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa has drawn widespread attention to one of the most significant challenges worldwide, which directly affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people, and did so long before the crisis: the healthcare sector in remote communities.

With under-developed infrastructure and the lowest number of doctors per capita in the world (as low as 2.2 per 10,000 people, less than ⅙ of the global average!), morbidity and mortality from both communicable and non-communicable diseases in Africa’s rural communities are the highest in the world.

According to the World Bank Group, while the sub-Saharan population accounts for only 11% of the global population, it bears 24% of the world’s disease burden. With hospitals often hours and even days away, fighting a pandemic such as Covid-19 is nearly impossible, and providing hundreds of millions with the basic diagnostic and treatment they deserve is not possible either. 

One of the most talked-about issues is the lack of the most basic infrastructure in many of the clinics, and especially the lack of electricity. According to a special report by McKinsey, only 28% of clinics have “reliable electricity”. Albeit only one factor of the needed infrastructure in clinics, electrification efforts have won excellent public relations and many resources from local governments and international organizations. But despite the tremendous efforts, the impact of such projects is limited, at best.

Electricity is just not enough

The solar sector has been highly influential in the entire Sub-Saharan Africa region over the past decade, revolutionizing many developing economies. Using an available, affordable, and safe resource - sunlight - Ignite Power and many other companies have connected tens of millions of people to electricity for the first time, bringing them into the global economy and establishing powerful new business models.

But solar energy was only the enabler. The complementary part were the products that utilized the energy created by the solar panels and allowed for tailor-made solutions, efficiently and affordably. Electrifying millions of homes was not possible without solar systems; it was not possible without the LED lamps either. Providing light in an extremely energy-efficient way, powering on low-voltage and being very affordable, the LED technology utilized the solar systems in the best way possible, and disrupted millions of lives.

To make a substantial impact on the African healthcare sector, we must develop the medical equivalent of LED lamps: advanced medical equipment that will be specially adapted to off-grid energy sources and will enable affordable diagnosis and treatment, everywhere. Only by doing so, we can provide clinics with a holistic solution, support the remote medical teams, and impact the lives of those who need it the most.

Introducing the first designed-for-solar medical system

For the past 2 years, Ignite Power developed the world’s first Designed-for-Solar medical system range, aiming to provide the most remote health centers with a holistic solution, that includes reliable electricity, full connectivity, and advanced, solar-based technologies, to allow for much better diagnosis and treatment. Since the Covid-19 crisis outbreak, the efforts have been accelerated, aiming to support remote medical teams fighting the pandemic.

In addition to the solar systems, which allow for reliable and sustainable electricity at all locations, the system includes advanced, Designed-for-Solar technologies, including X-ray, ultrasound, non-invasive blood tests, satellite-based connectivity solution, and more.

All devices are designated for the specific needs of remote medical teams, powered completely by solar energy, and allow for remote support and guidance. They also provide vital data and analysis, based on AI algorithms, supporting local teams by raising “red flags” on patients showing suspicious indicators for a wide range of diseases, including Covid-19.

The next phase of solar-based impact

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, recently estimated that the Covid-19 pandemic drove “2 years of digital transformation in 2 months.” We must use the momentum of these transformations and lead the way to the next phase of solar-based impact. By utilizing the most advanced technology and tailoring it to off-grid systems and the needs of remote medical teams, we can bridge the infrastructure gap that prevents hundreds of millions of people throughout Africa from receiving the medical treatment they deserve.

Africa’s healthcare sector presents one of the greatest challenges of our time. It existed long before the Covid-19 crisis, and unfortunately, will probably remain long after. To provide a tangible, sustainable solution and impact hundreds of millions of lives, both government officials and business leaders should think in a much more holistic manner. To “not let the crisis go to waste” and best utilize these few months where “decades happen”, we must do more than electrifying - but equip the clinics as well. This is the only way to disrupt reality as we know it, and lead the entire region into a healthier, more inclusive future.

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