Childbirth in Darkness
Co-founder Dr. Laura Stachel went to Northern Nigeria in 2008 to study ways to lower maternal mortality in state hositals. She witnessed deplorable conditions in state facilities including sporadic electricity that impaired maternity and surgical care. Without a reliable source of electricity, nighttime deliveries were attended in near darkness, cesarean sections were cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and critically ill patients waited hours or days for life-saving procedures. The outcomes were often tragic.
Laura wrote to her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator back in Berkeley, California. Together, Laura and Hal co-founded WE CARE Solar to improve maternal health outcomes in regions without reliable electricity. Hal designed an off-grid solar electric system for the hospital Laura was studying, targeting the maternity ward, labor room, laboratory and operating theatre.
A Portable Solution
Hal created a suitcase-sized prototype of the hospital solar electric system so Laura could show Nigerian hospital workers the LED lights, headlamps and walkie-talkies planned for deployment. When Laura returned to Nigeria toting the “solar suitcase,” her Nigerian colleagues immediately grasped its significance and began using this kit to charge headlamps and walkie-talkies while they awaited the larger solar installation. In addition, hospital employees introduced Laura to clinicians in outlying health facilities who begged her to bring solar lighting to their own clinics, too.
WE CARE initially assembled Solar Suitcases for midwives in northern Nigerian maternal health clinics. As word of our innovative power solution spread, we received requests from clinics and health workers around the world, including medical relief teams in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. We first relied on students and volunteers to help us assemble and deliver Solar Suitcases. As demand increased, we realized we needed formal mechanisms to reach scale. The Blum Center for Developing Economies and The MacArthur Foundation supported our technology research, our educational programs, and our field studies in Northern Nigeria. World Health Organization invited us to partner with the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research in bringing 20 Solar Suitcases to primary health care clinics in Liberia. Together, these projects are helping us to improve our suitcase design and gain important feedback about the power of our Solar Suitcases to transform health systems.
In 2011, We Care Solar began utilizing a local contract manufacturer to assemble Solar Suitcases. As of November 2014, approximately 900 Solar Suitcases have been assembled and sent to 25 countries around the world. We have developed regional programs in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Malawi, and the Philippines. In 2015, we will be expanding programs in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the Philippines.