You are here: HomeCommunityStories blogThe View from Maternal Health

Lack of reliable energy supply can limit the reach of particular health interventions. Lack of reliable energy supply can limit the reach of particular health interventions.

The View from Maternal Health

Those of us in the international health field recognize the direct links between the work we do and the energy needs that our work demands. However, rarely do we think about strategically addressing those needs and ensuring that our energy demands are met in a technically sound and appropriate manner. Recently, a small group of health professionals in maternal and reproductive health met to identify areas in which the lack of reliable energy supply limits the reach of particular health interventions. As we looked at this list, we realized that quite a bit of work remains to be done to educate health professionals about the importance of making wise investments in energy activities in order to deliver health services effectively and efficiently. Here are just a few of the issues we uncovered.

Cold Chain Issues

Cold chain issues exist across the health sector. The cold chain for storage of immunizations often cannot be used for cold storage of HIV test kits or for medicines. Not only is this a matter of policy (policies can be flexible), but it is often a matter of capacity and location vis-à-vis service delivery sites. Consider the example of postpartum hemorrhage. Postpartum hemorrhage is the number one killer of women in childbirth and accounts for more maternal deaths than any other cause. However, there is a simple and effective intervention to prevent it called Active Management of the Third Stage of Labor (AMTSL). AMTSL includes an injection of oxytocin immediately after the birth of the baby. Use of AMTSL has been severely hampered by the fact that oxytocin needs to be refrigerated for long-term storage. In warm weather conditions the product can deteriorate quickly. Health professionals can deliver and store this in capital cities and in regional and even district hospitals when refrigeration is available. However, these are not the places where most births occur. Women who deliver in or near rural clinics are generally the ones to suffer, as these clinics rarely have electricity to operate a refrigerator.

Basic lighting for clinical purposes

Good lighting is required for in-clinic sites that offer gynecological examinations, long acting and permanent methods of contraception such as IUD insertion and vasectomy, and cervical cancer screening. Good lighting is especially important in clinical sites that offer safe motherhood and newborn services since many deliveries occur at night.

Powering data collection tools

Health and population data from country-wide health surveys such as the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) have traditionally been collected via paper and pencil. With cheaper costs for computers and mobile technology, new data collection tools such as handheld PDAs and laptops are being introduced to reduce the time and cost of collecting these large-scale population-based surveys. Survey collectors, however, spend days out in rural areas without any access to electricity supply to recharge their equipment. In order to save data and continue the collection process, surveyors need mobile solutions to energy generation to recharge and power their data collection devices.

Often, health professionals will make hasty investments when investing in energy systems without much consideration of the specifics of their energy needs. Moreover, health professionals rarely think of the training needs of those health providers who will need to maintain and manage alternative energy sources to ensure longer shelf life and sustainability of the energy source.

There is a clear need for more education and guidance for the health sector as it moves toward investing in more dependable energy sources for health services and products in developing countries. We will need clear, concise information on what products to invest in for the developing country context, specifications on energy efficient products we should be buying to outfit health centers and laboratories, and assistance in training partners to maintain the equipment.

For more information, contact Heather D'Agnes, and Patricia Stephenson, USAID/Bureau for Global Health.

The Powering Health Stories blog brings you current trends in the worlds of health, energy and development, as well as features on current work being undertaken by USAID.  If you have a story that you would like us to cover or one that you would like to contribute, contact us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. !