While researching Africa’s appalling maternal mortality rates back in 2008, Dr. Laura Stachel came across a discovery that shocked her. Women, there were 70 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in the U.S – not because of esoteric illnesses, but because of causes as simple as the lack of electricity. The off-grid facilities in countries like Nigeria were so inadequate that babies were being delivered in the middle of the night in candlelight or using lanterns.
Childbirth comes with its own set of complications inherently. Lack of basic resources such as light and electricity give these complications a fatal turn, resulting in the notorious maternal mortality rates.
About 800 women worldwide die every day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, according to the World Health Organization. But almost all maternal deaths occur in low-resource settings, and most are preventable. Upon realizing the situation, Stachel set out on a mission to help save these mothers.
In 2009, she, along with her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar educator, founded We Care Solar. In 2009, they initially designed a photovoltaic system to power lighting, medical equipment, a blood bank refrigerator, and communication equipment in a major municipal hospital in Northern Nigeria.
This system targeted maternal health care by powering overhead surgical lighting and surgical equipment, mobile telecommunications for hospital staff, a 12 volt DC blood bank refrigerator, headlamps, and lighting for the maternity ward and labour room.
The initiative saw a marked decrease in maternal deaths over the following year, and more health centres began asking for solar-powered systems to support their operations. The duo then developed The Solar Suitcase – a portable solar electric system that can power overhead LED lighting, charges cell phones, and includes LED headlamps with rechargeable batteries.
The suitcases are designed to last for 10-20 years, requiring battery changes only once in 2 years. The first deployment of these systems occurred in June 2009. Since then, these systems have been introduced in more than 20 counties for use in healthcare and emergency response.
We Care Solar has worked in Haiti, Liberia, Uganda, the Philippines, India, Nepal and many more countries of the world in collaborations with the World Health Organization and many other international and local NGOs to provide electricity in clinics and reduce maternal mortality.
We Share Solar is an innovative educational program, a sister concern of We Care Solar, that provides the youth with opportunities to link science and technology with international humanitarian service.
The initiative targets one of the world’s lesser-discussed problems and highlights how so many of our problems are derived from simple, preventable sources such as the lack of electricity, connectivity and accessibility.