Green energy is revolutionising Zimbabwe’s faltering healthcare system, but…

By 19 October 2023, Zimbabwe had recorded 115 suspected cholera deaths — 34 confirmed — and 5,256 suspected cases according to a situational report from the country’s Health and Child Care ministry. Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and death if untreated. It is most likely to occur and spread in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene. Kennedy Nyavaya reports.

The cases, which have continued to rise to date, mark the latest cholera outbreak, and possibly the worst since another disastrous one in 2008 that the Southern African nation has encountered in recent times.

Health experts opine that Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is a mess and it continues to deteriorate, exposing the majority of its citizens to life threatening realities.

Amongst a mixture of reasons, the health crisis has been worsened by the country’s incessant energy shortages that are currently affecting over half of the citizens who, in addition to not affording basic healthcare, stay in remote rural areas and are energy poor.

From power cuts affecting water supply (water shortages are one of the major drivers of Cholera) to shortages of transportation for patients as well as proper medication storage, Zimbabwe’s energy crisis is exacerbating its healthcare shortcomings.

However, of late, there has been an encouraging rise in clean energy projects primarily put together to support the health sector.

Clean mobility and mini-grid solar power station projects are plugging the energy gap and ensuring that underprivileged communities access affordable yet top quality healthcare.

A glance at reality on the ground suggests that sustainable movement and mini-grid power stations are two interrelated solutions that can effectively address the crippling challenges of energy access and transportation, especially in rural Zimbabwe.

Renewable energy may be generally good for the environment and atmosphere as it lessens the amount of toxic carbon emissions but it also directly impacts the well-being of underprivileged communities that often lack reliable and affordable healthcare services.

Clean mobility, solar stations plug the gap

In the Eastern parts of the less developed country, one of the model success stories of clean mobility and solar systems has been the Hamba solar tricycle scheme in Wedza, Mashonaland East province.

The scheme, started in 2019 by a startup called Mobility for Africa to promote community-based transport solutions for rural communities, has gone an extra mile in addressing health crises in the area.

In the countryside, health facilities are not only inadequate but those available are often far distances away from most households, understaffed and have no requisite equipment including ambulances to ferry patients in critical conditions.

The challenges contribute to the increase of afflictions of communities that include high maternal mortality rates, which a 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey estimated at 651 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Mobility for Africa leases solar-powered tricycles to groups of Zimbabwean women, who in addition to using them for economic empowerment, offer transport to locals and most importantly helps them access emergency health services.

The tricycles are used to transport people to clinics and collect medicines for patients, thereby facilitating the delivery of health supplies and equipment to remote areas that are not connected to the national grid.

The affordability of this type of clean transport when it comes to spare parts and maintenance costs makes it the most ideal for the improvement of living standards for many, enabling a significant number of people to access essential health services more conveniently and affordably.

Apart from the clean transport schemes, renewable energy systems are helping in the refrigeration of vaccines and medications, a crucial development in situations like the current Cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe.

Mini-grid solar stations are decentralised renewable energy systems that can provide electricity to off-grid communities using solar photovoltaic panels and lithium batteries.

They also serve as charging points for electric vehicles such as tricycles, motorcycles, bicycles, and buses.

If fully incorporated, clean energy innovations can simultaneously plug the energy gap and ensure that underprivileged communities access affordable yet top quality healthcare.

Strengthening the nexus between clean power and healthcare

To fully revolutionise Zimbabwe’s healthcare systems through clean energy, there is a need for a massive scale up and replication of these solutions.

Challenges and barriers such as the current lack of supportive policies and regulations that incentivize the adoption of renewable energy and electric mobility need to be overcome.

There are generally high upfront costs and limited financing options for solar systems and electric vehicles in the country at the moment. This is coupled with low awareness and acceptance of the benefits and potential of clean mobility and solar mini-grid stations among rural communities and government stakeholders.

To address these problems, some of the possible actions and recommendations include developing and implementing more policies that are conducive and regulations that support the development of renewable energy and electric mobility markets such as feed-in tariffs, subsidies, tax incentives, standards and quality assurance.

Mobilising and leveraging public and private financing sources and mechanisms such as grants, loans, guarantees, equity, crowdfunding, and pay-as-you-go models.

There is also a massive need to raise awareness and build trust among rural communities and stakeholders about the advantages and opportunities of clean mobility and solar stations.

Strengthening the infrastructure and technical capacity for installation, operation, maintenance of solar systems and electric vehicles through local manufacturing, skills development and technology transfer are also a prerequisite.

Clean mobility and solar power are promising solutions to the energy poverty problem that is hindering underprivileged communities from accessing affordable as well as top quality healthcare.

By overcoming the barriers and implementing green actions and recommendations, clean energy solutions can be scaled up and replicated across the country, contributing to the combined achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

The views and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.



Kennedy Nyavaya is a multiple award-winning freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe. His stories have been published in local newspapers including NewsDay, The Standard and Zimbabwe Independent as well as several foreign platforms like Clean Energy Wire (Clew) in Germany. Kennedy also writes and edits stories for the Environmental Gist Online (EGO), an environment and climate change news website he co-founded in August 2020. Throughout his half a decade career he has travelled to different parts of the world on duty and has amplified stories on the environment, climate and the energy transition among others. With a firm belief that climate change is the greatest threat to mankind’s existence, he has also developed zeal to become a dedicated sustainability reporter. This has seen him amplifying voices around issues of environmentally friendly activities through radio programs on local radio stations as well as articles in newspapers and social media.

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