Nearly half of all families around the world lack access to clean stoves and fuels to cook their meals. In some low- and middle-income countries, almost 60% of health care facilities have unreliable power. If this sounds like an energy access problem, it is. But it is also a global health problem. Cooking over polluting, open fires and inefficient stoves contributes to as many as four million deaths every year. And without reliable electricity, clinicians cannot effectively use medical appliances to treat patients. We cannot improve health outcomes without also improving global energy access.
This year’s World Health Assembly (WHA), held in Geneva May 20-28, took on this challenging but critical conversation during two events focused on the intersections of health and energy.
In the first, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched the Health and Energy Platform of Action to strengthen political cooperation between these two sectors. Joined by partners including the Clean Cooking Alliance (Alliance) and SEforALL, among others, this event focused on the numerous interlinkages between health and energy and the importance of accelerating health and energy solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Governments are taking this effort seriously; both Queen Letizia of Spain and Alliance Champion Her Excellency Samira Bawumia of Ghana joined WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to inaugurate the new initiative.
During the launch event, Alliance CEO Dymphna van der Lans emphasized the importance of partnerships, noting that, “Without heavily engaging stakeholders from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, we cannot reach the necessary scale or ensure sustained use of clean cooking solutions globally.”
Luc Severi, Energy Access Manager for the UN Foundation’s Powering Health Care initiative, said, “We need to make progress in three key areas: improved collaboration across sectors; innovative delivery models; and putting energy efficiency first. If we address these barriers, health facilities will benefit from a sustainable and modern source of energy to power medical appliances and deliver the health services that are needed.”
Following the platform launch, the Alliance and Powering Health Care co-hosted the UN Foundation’s first official WHA side event. Panelists Dr. Timothy Musila, Assistant Commissioner of Health Services in the Uganda Ministry of Health, and Madhusudhan Adhikari, Executive Director of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre in Nepal, highlighted how active coordination between the health and energy sectors has advanced both clean cooking and the electrification of health care facilities in their respective countries. The UN Foundation’s Ambassador John Lange remarked that, “Collaboration across energy and health sectors is imperative to address barriers holding back the large-scale deployment of sustainable energy solutions to improve health.”
While the new platform and the side event are important first steps, energy and health advocates must now get down to the complicated business of learning from each other and combining forces to enact real change. As Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, put it, “Working together, we can move mountains. But this is a big one.”