Shedding some light on childbirth

The Edna Aden Hospital Maternity Ward

It’s supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life. But if you live outside the industrialized nations, having a baby just might kill you. Every year about 500,000 women around the world die in childbirth – 99% of them in the developing world. And 20 times more will suffer severe complications. In northern Nigeria, rural women who have little prenatal care often deliver their babies at home and run a lifetime risk of 1 in 13 of dying from pregnancy complications. Even when they get to a hospital, sporadic electricity may interrupt life-saving care.

Maternity Ward lighting - before We Care Solar

For Dr. Laura Stachel, working in Nigeria as an obstetrician, those were just unacceptable numbers. “I realized that all my years of clinical experience were useless in a situation where there was no light to perform a delivery or surgery, and no phone system to call a skilled doctor.”So she and her husband Hal Aronson, a solar technology trainer, decided to shed a little light on the situation. In 2009, they founded We Care Solar or Women’s Energy, Communication and Reliable Electricity.

Simply put, it’s a portable solar electric system in a small suitcase pre-wired with LED overhead lights and headlamps, and walkie-talkies. These can make a world of difference for primary health care facilities and small hospitals where the lights routinely go out in the middle of a C-section. With photovoltaic panels providing solar power, a clinic’s medical equipment will continue to work, blood can be kept for 35 days for instant transfusions, and the health care workers can see what they are doing and provide life-saving care to mothers in critical situations.

An Operating Room with We Care LED lighting -- voila!

The We Care Solar kit developed by Aronson and Stachel (rhymes with “satchel”) is robust, easy to install, remarkably durable and requires almost no maintenance. Since the first suitcase was deployed in Nigeria in June 2009, 25 solar satchels have been delivered to 9 countries, and saved countless lives. One Nigerian hospital lowered its maternal mortality rate from 5 women a month to less than 2 — and that’s a trend in the right direction!

The girls who will benefit from We Care Solar.

I love simple, clever, problem-solving ideas like the Solar Suitcase– and I’m not alone. High school students are clamoring to help put together Solar Suitcases (under supervision, of course), and universities from Berkeley to Villanova are working to develop suctioning machines and oxygen generators that will run on the 12-volt DC current Stachel & Aronson devised. Tdoay, We Care Solar suitcases are heading out for Haiti, Chile and now Pakistan, along with the African nations. And babies everywhere are giving it the big thumbs up!

It’s my pleasure today to donate $100 to welcome a few more Solar Suitcases into the world (they cost about $1,000 apiece) – and hopefully deliver hundreds more happy birth days to women I’ve never met. To join me, click here!

And to read Nicholas Kristof’s great blog on We Care Solar, click here.


What Gives News Update!

A reader of my blog sent Khalida and the Participatory Development Initiative (see post on 8/30) a $25,000 donation to bring relief to Pakistan – how awesome!!