Let There Be Light: Solar power saves African women from dying in childbirth
In 2008, I watched a pregnant woman arrive in labor at a Northern Nigeria hospital. She lay on a metal table in the delivery room, bleeding, in need of an emergency c/section. The hospital had limited electricity, no monitors, and no telephone system. The midwife searched for hours for the surgical team. As darkness fell, time was running out for a safe delivery. I followed the emergency crew into the operating room. As the surgeons incised the uterus and delivered the baby, the lights went out….and the procedure could be completed only by the light of my own flashlight.
One of the most insidious and manipulative arguments from Koch-worshipping, Ayn-Rand-adoring libertarian extremists is that dirty electricity from fossil fuels is the only thing keeping us from third-world-style misery, and if people in Africa want to be better off, they must become just like us and how dare those awful environmentalists keep them poor 9_9 Read on for how Laura Stachel’s project sets that ridiculous strawman ablaze:
But to survive childbirth, women need hospitals and clinics with reliable electricity for light and power.
In 2008, I co-founded WECARE (Women’s Emergency Communication And Reliable Electricity) Solar. Our mission is to save lives of mothers and babies in childbirth by making solar simple.
My husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator, and I set out to design a low-cost, rugged, dependable, solar electric system that could fit in a suitcase. We called it the Solar Suitcase. We included overhead LED lights, headlamps, and walkie-talkies or cell phone chargers. The Solar Suitcase can be installed in minutes and is simple enough for anyone to use.
We have delivered 80 Solar Suitcases to health clinics and hospitals around the world, including Burma, Liberia, Nigeria, and Haiti. The suitcases power overhead LED lights, headlamps, laptop computers, and mobile communication devices. Expanded systems can power blood banks.
Giving birth should be a joyful experience – not a potentially life-threatening situation. After witnessing the reality of childbirth in developing countries, I can’t turn my back on these young women. They want what all mothers deserve: a safe delivery. With the help of a little box of solar power, WE CARE Solar is helping that to happen.
‘Having the light changed everything,’ reported one midwife. In her hospital, the maternal death rate dropped by 70% the year after we installed solar power. Midwives told me they are no longer afraid to work at night. They can easily call for help, promptly identify complications, and provide appropriate care for patients in need. Physicians can conduct c/sections throughout the night. As one Nigerian surgeon told me, ‘We can finally do the job we were trained to do.’
Here’s video about WECARE Solar that aired on ABC World News last night, in their “Person of the Week” segment:
If her technology spreads further and saves more lives, she deserves far more than just that designation.