Nigeria, November 2011. It’s our ninth day delivering Solar Suitcases to maternal health facilities in Kano and Kaduna states. As we make our way from clinic to clinic, we have been overwhelmed by stories we have heard about the consequences of inadequate lighting on childbirth. It has been heartbreaking to hear midwives describe how difficult it is to provide quality care at night, to hear about the needless loss of life that has resulted from a simple lack of electricity. One midwife described her grief at losing a patient who bled to death after a vaginal delivery. The delivery had been hard, but was successful. She had told the family the joyous news that mother and baby were fine. She covered the mother with a blanket, and went back to caring for the newborn using her flashlight. When she turned to the mother with her light, she realized the woman was in a pool of blood. “With a torchlight, I can only see one patient at a time,” she lamented. She told me that without lighting for the whole room, she hadn’t recognized what was happening. “I would have looked for the source of bleeding, arranged for a blood transfusion…she didn’t have to die.” Another midwife described the difficulty providing comprehensive care at a hospital. Several days before we arrived, the hospital referred out a mother with obstructed labor. The woman needed a c/section at 8 pm. The surgical team was available, the operating room had equipment and supplies, but the public utility was down and the generator was without fuel. The midwife was forced to prepare the patient for a transfer and send her to another hospital, 40 minutes away. On the way to the hospital, the patient died.
When we deliver solar suitcases to hospitals and clinics, we are greeted with so much gratitude. “I have two patients to care for at once – now I can see both of them,” explains one midwife. “Now I won’t need to refer patients out of the hospital for c/sections,” remarked another. “Now I won’t have to work by candlelight,” a male health worker says with relief. The solar suitcase provides hope for these health workers, and a chance to provide better care. While so many of us take for granted that light is always available, it is painfully clear that much of the world does not have this luxury. “You have given us the greatest gift possible,” an operating room nurse explains, “and with this we will save many lives.”