If doctors do not have access to electricity, providing even basic health care can be perilous. “A number of doctors have shared shocking stories of delivering babies in the dark and navigating complicated births by the light of their phones – situations that can put both mother and baby at risk,” says Nicolas Saincy. He is the co-founder of Nanoé, a French-Malagasy social enterprise that in October 2020 received a $240,000 grant from the U.S. government to electrify 35 rural health clinics serving 140,000 people.
Ten of those clinics in northeast Madagascar now have solar energy systems installed, drastically improving the quality and range of health care services these clinics can provide. The funding for this project comes from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Power Africa initiative.
“When rural communities don’t have access to electricity there are dire consequences in terms of both economic development and health outcomes,” said USAID’s Mission Director John Dunlop. “Energy is critical for powering essential medical devices, including sterilization and diagnostics equipment, cold storage for vaccines and medication, information technology, and lights so doctors can provide urgent care at any time of the day or night.”
Nanoé uses a unique model to expand energy access in rural areas. Under the USAID/Power Africa grant, Nanoé is establishing nano-grids centered on health facilities. Nano-grids are small, decentralized electrical grids, in this case consisting of a solar hub with panels and a storage battery. The health facilities receive free electricity, while excess electricity is sold to surrounding communities to pay for grid maintenance, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project.
This USAID/Power Africa grant also creates jobs. Nanoé is training thirteen community members to operate and maintain the nano-grids’ commercial and technical operations.
“We are very excited about the impact this USAID/Power Africa grant will have on the local community,” said Mr. Saincy. “As a social enterprise, having an impact is the first objective, above our profits. We could not have moved forward on the implementation of this project without the grant from USAID/Power Africa, and we want to thank them for putting their confidence in us.”
Only 6.5% of rural Malagasy households have access to electricity. Efficient health services and responses to diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and now COVID-19 depend on reliable access to electricity. Power Africa is a U.S. government-led initiative coordinated by USAID that brings together over 170 public and private sector partners with the goal of doubling access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
The U.S. government and the Malagasy people are like “mpirahalahy mianala” as we work together to secure a sustainable, reliable energy future for Madagascar. The health electrification grant to Nanoé is part of the $2.6 million Power Africa Off-Grid program, which is working in nine countries to electrify 300 health clinics across Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, under Power Africa, Madagascar is one of 11 countries targeted by the Southern Africa Energy Program (SAEP), which promotes investment in the energy sector and helps participating countries increase energy generation, transmission, and distribution. Last year, USAID and Power Africa awarded three companies in Madagascar a combined $1.2 million in grant funding to develop mini-grids that will bring electricity to more than 5,200 rural homes and businesses.
Through these activities, the United States is helping Madagascar reach its energy goals by sponsoring pilot projects and grants for mini-grid development, providing technical advice to the private sector as it develops new on- and off-grid projects, and partnering with the School of Engineering at the University of Antananarivo to increase local expertise in mini-grid development.