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Health Talk: Power cuts wreak havoc on health care

Frequent daily power cuts coupled by lack of resources are pushing most of the country’s health institutions to their limits.

By Dr Johannes Marisa The country’s inadequate and unreliable supply of power is taking down the health system.

Frequent daily power cuts coupled by lack of resources are pushing most of the country’s health institutions to their limits.

Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital has found the going very tough without reliable power supply as the change-over switches from generators have not been working for the last weeks, forcing theatre staff to phone Zimbabwe Power Company for special power consideration in times of surgical operations, resuscitations and other emergent operations at the hospital.

Many clinics and hospitals are facing insurmountable challenges as a result of power failures and health delivery service is knocked down.

It is imperative that stakeholders in health service delivery think seriously and take serious action on electricity supply to healthcare facilities if mortality is to reduce in hospitals.

Power back-ups should be very reliable for all healthcare facilities to avert further disaster in the country. Why does ZESA just switch off everyone, healthcare facilities included, without a strong prior warning?

Such action should never be condoned in a country that thrives to offer sound health delivery service to the masses. People should know the calamitous results of unplanned power outages on health delivery.

Universal health coverage is desired and the outcome is better attainment of health deliverables like increased life expectancy, reduced patient mortality which includes maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, incidence and prevalence of specific diseases. Electricity is a scarcity at the moment with many hours of load-shedding, a development which is calamitous for healthcare facilities that do not have strong power back-ups.

The end result is that service delivery becomes poor and attainment of health deliverables becomes a taboo. Quite few researches have been carried about the impact of power outages on healthcare facilities yet power is a critical component of good health delivery.

In 2007, the World Health Organisation proposed a framework describing health systems in terms of six components which include service delivery, health workforce, health information systems, access to essential medicines, financing and leadership.

A sound and prolific health delivery system is built on the six building blocks and the absence of any one of them can lead to a shaky and cracked building with a serious threat to collapse.

Primary health care in any country should be stronger than granite. In 1978 in Khazakhstan, the Alma Ata Declaration was pronounced where primary health care was viewed as the gateway to archiving the objective of health for all the people of all nations. This was supported by the United Nations High-Level Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage on September 23, 2019. According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights, health access is a fundamental right.

The economic blue print for Zimbabwe, the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) has 10 strategic focus areas and health is one of the key areas. Many clinics are under construction while many others have already been opened. It needs dedication from all stakeholders to make sure we write a success stories. Power outages have worsened in the last weeks and healthcare facilities have not been spared, thus putting the health of many at risk.

Power is needed in healthcare facilities for drug storages especially drugs that have to maintain the cold chain like vaccines, for example, Hepatitis, Covid-19, anti-Rabies, Anti-tetanus vaccines. Many hospital units require uninterrupted power supplies.

The critical care units need heavy machines like ventilators to keep running. Neonatology units are equally affected when there are power outages while surgical operations are derailed with incessant power shortages.

While many people may not see power as an important utility for a robust health delivery, it should be emphasized and understood that electricity is a very critical input to reduce both morbidity and mortality.

Infrastructural development is thus a good positive step for the attainment of universal health coverage. It is thus imperative to have enough energy power in the form of electricity if healthcare facilities are to function smoothly.

Victory against treatable diseases is certain with good infrastructure that is supported by technological development. Electricity is key in healthcare facilities.

A healthcare facility without power back-ups in the face of incessant power outages can face numerous challenges that may have deleterious effects on service delivery.

Mortality can go up, overhead costs can sky-rocket, and patients can have delayed diagnoses while patient confidence can nosedive. Imagine just losing power in the midst of a surgical operation or having a power outage when a patient is on a ventilator when there is no reliable back-up! How many drugs lose their potency when there is power loss and subsequent loss of the cold chain? It is thus imperative that power alternatives are installed at healthcare facilities so that there are reliable substitutes in case of sudden power cuts.

Generators with adequate fuel and competent personnel to operate the same generators should be available. Solarisation of healthcare facilities is another option which is cheaper especially when light machines are used.

The provision of lights is important in healthcare facilities as darkness can impede the administration of drugs to patients.

Electricity shortage should not be treated lightly. Some studies have concluded that there is at least 30% increase in in-patient mortality with power outage duration of over three hours per day.

What a catastrophe! How many rural clinics have back-ups of power? What therefore happens to those healthcare facilities without power back-ups?

Health service delivery has also been crippled by maladministration. One wonders how a CEO is comfortable to run a hospital that has no power back-up.

This is an embarrassment and it shows how poorly-run some of our healthcare facilities are.

Do we have competent administration at some of these hospitals or there are mere office bearers who are only enjoying huge perks at the expense of health service delivery?

You hear of incessant corruption and pilferage at the same hospitals.

Government should address such ills if the country is to attain a sound health service delivery status.

Government should therefore make sure healthcare facilities have uninterrupted power supplies or they have reliable power back-ups in order to smoothen health service delivery.

Electricity is key for healthcare facilities.