Reliable energy transforms healthcare, creating better services that reach more people. India’s Karuna Trust has given staff and patients the power to deliver 21st century healthcare using affordable, sustainable energy – with amazing results.

The trust’s unique approach creates systemic change rooted in the needs of local communities, and gives clinical staff the skills and resources to tackle energy issues in their buildings. It is the most marginalised patients who benefit most – no longer having to travel long distances for specialist care, or risk power cuts mid-treatment.

I can treat more patients in less time... in previous jobs we always had to use a generator which created a horrible environment for patients.

Dentist, Gumbally Health Centre

Decent healthcare is impossible without sustainable, reliable and affordable energy. Yet over a billion people around the world use health centres and hospitals with no regular electricity supply. Patients are deprived of lighting for night-time care or births, working equipment, refrigeration for vaccines, and sterilisation facilities. Staff – already struggling to give care few with few resources – are left frustrated and demoralised.

Karuna Trust is an NGO giving free primary healthcare to more than 1.5 million people in rural parts of five Indian states, places which experience power cuts for at least two hours every day. Led by doctors and health professionals, the trust works with authorities and local people to create public-private partnerships. These turn failing government clinics into providers of top-quality healthcare.

Karuna Trust – which also runs community services such as schools and training centres – takes a holistic and integrated approach, investing in excellent management systems, infrastructure, technology and support for staff.

The integration of sustainable energy and energy efficiency measures has been important part of the clinics’ transformation. The trust has worked closely with the SELCO Foundation to pilot solar electricity in health centres, guided by the needs of staff and patients. It also improves energy efficiency and patient comfort with clever building designs, incorporating natural lighting and cross-ventilation. And it thoroughly tests equipment and works to ensure high efficiency standards, for example by creating a ‘model’ neo-natal care room that promotes best practice.  

Dhanraj Gouda, Optometrist, Santhemarahalli Mobile Vision Centre. Dhanraj is a local resident whose optometry training was supported by Karuna Trust

Beyond the health centre walls, sustainable energy has allowed Karuna Trust to reach further into rural communities. Solar-powered eye clinics in shipping containers serve remote towns and villages that have never had access to these services before. Maternal health workers are equipped with ‘solar back-packs’ holding essential lighting and equipment so they can provide quality care in the field.

The trust works with community governance groups who guide the activities of each health centre. These groups also look after funding for the use and maintenance of equipment, drawing down state funding for community infrastructure. Most funding comes from contracts with state Government. Activities not covered by government money, such as optometry and dentistry, are funded through corporate partnerships and philanthropy.

It is unusual to have such high-quality eye care available in a small town, far from the city. The mobile eye clinic has transformed things. It helps us diagnose serious conditions early, people will come here who would never be able to travel and pay for eye care

Dhanraj Gouda, Optometrist, Santhemarahalli Mobile Vision Centre.

Karuna Trust is creating fairer health and energy systems, concentrating resources on the most marginalised people. The results are spectacular – child and mother death rates have fallen dramatically since the trust adopted the clinics. Its innovative use of sustainable energy has played an important role in this process, as well as driving down energy use and CO2 emissions.

Having more facilities at the heart of local communities allows early treatment and diagnosis, and helps people take preventative steps to improve their health – while better work environments create higher staff retention rates and job satisfaction. The trust’s ultimate aim is to demonstrate great healthcare systems to national and regional decision makers, so lives across India can be dramatically improved.