WE CARE Solar promotes safe motherhood and reduces maternal mortality in developing regions by providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and blood bank refrigeration using solar electricity.
Maternal mortality worldwide accounts for 300,000 deaths a year; 99 percent of these occur in underdeveloped countries. For every maternal death, at least 20 women suffer severe complications from childbirth. Major causes of maternal death include obstetric hemorrhage (massive bleeding from childbirth), obstructive labor (labor where the mother is unable to deliver the baby), eclampsia (life threatening seizures related to high blood pressure), and sepsis (widespread infection). These emergencies cannot always be predicted, nor are they always preventable. However, with prompt, appropriate and reliable medical care, they are unlikely to result in loss of life.
Sporadic electricity impairs the operation of surgical wards, delivery wards, essential hospital equipment, and hospital communications. This compromises the ability of health workers to provide safe, appropriate and timely medical care. Labor and delivery nurses cannot quickly notify on-call physicians of emergencies. Midwives and physicians are forced to make treatment decisions without the benefit of necessary diagnostic tests. Obstetric procedures and emergency surgeries are conducted under grossly suboptimal conditions, and can have tragic consequences. The photo of the kerosene lantern on our home page was taken in the maternity ward of one Nigerian hospital – this was the only light available in the ward!
A Powerful Solution
In 2009, we 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 the following:
- Overhead surgical lighting in areas of critical need such as the operating room and labor and delivery
- Mobile telecommunications between hospital staff and on-call physicians
- Existing on-site surgical equipment that is currently underutilized
- A 12V DC blood bank refrigerator
- Battery chargers that power LED headlamps for night duty workers
The Solar Suitcase – A Portable Innovation
We also designed a compact solar electric system that fits in a suitcase. The “WE CARE Solar Suitcase” powers overhead LED lighting, charges cell phones, and includes LED headlamps that come with their own rechargeable batteries. The first deployment of these systems occurred in June 2009. Now these systems have been introduced in 24 counties, including Haiti, to aid medical relief teams after the 2010 earthquake; Liberia, where we worked with the World Health Organization in 2011; in Uganda, where we partnered with AMREF and Safe Mothers, Safe Babies. In 2012, we introduced Solar Suitcases to Sierra Leone, in partnership with UNFPA and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. And in 2013, we piloted a Solar Suitcase program in Malawi, in partnership with JHPIEGO, CARE and Save the Children.
Our Solar Suitcases are user-friendly, robust, durable, and nearly maintenance-free. They work in mobile settings or can be easily installed in existing hospitals and clinics lacking reliable source of power. Improved surgical lighting, enhanced usage of existing medical equipment, and the support of mobile telecommunication systems reduces delays in providing care, and increases the capacity of health workers to care for patients with obstetric complications. In addition, workers report more confidence in performing skilled care, and no longer fear night duty.