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.
We Care Solar promotes safe motherhood and reduces maternal mortality in developing regions by providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and medical devices using solar electricity.
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. This photo of the kerosene lantern was taken in the maternity ward of one Nigerian hospital – and was the only light available in the ward at night!
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 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 labor room. There was a marked decrease in maternal deaths over the next year, and an increase in patient utilization of the hospital. And many health centers began asking for solar power for childbirth.
In response to requests for solar electricity from primary health centers, We Care Solar designed a compact solar electric system that was portable and fit 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. Since then, these systems have been introduced in more than 20 counties for use in health care and emergency response: in Haiti, to aid medical relief teams after the 2010 earthquake; in Liberia, where we first worked with the World Health Organization in 2011; in Uganda, where we first partnered with AMREF and Safe Mothers, Safe Babies; in the Philippines, in response to Typhoon Haiyan in 2013; and in Nepal, after the 2015 earthquake.
In the last 3 years, we have conducted programs in Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, The Gambia, Liberia, Nepal and the Philippines, partnering with international NGO’s, Ministries of Health and UN Agencies to bring reliable lighting, phone-charging, and fetal monitoring to hundreds of health facilities.
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.
We Share Solar is the innovative educational program of We Care Solar that provides youth with an opportunity to link science and technology with international humanitarian service. We Share Solar empowers students to be global changemakers. By combining solar energy and engineering education with real-world applicability, trained teachers cultivate students’ interests in STEM subjects and inspire them to meet an immediate need in the developing world.