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Expanding the System

The last two days have been a whirlwind of excitement. The solar electric team began wiring the maternity wards and preparing the stands for the solar electric panels yesterday. Imagine this: in the midst of the usual chaos of labor and delivery they erected tall metal ladders that allowed them to climb above the ceiling and to drill holes at the top of the concrete walls of the room. The sound of drills and hammering intersected with the moans of women in labor and the cries of newborn babies.

Staffing is always short at the hospital and I’ve been playing multiple roles. Yesterday, I consulted with the head electrician about the placement of overhead lights and wall outlets, negotiated the donation of some surgical instruments for labor and delivery from a visiting team of American surgeons, attended a Rotary Club celebration and promoted WE CARE, and spent time observing maternity care for my dissertation. When a midwife was occupied with one delivery, she called out to me that the woman in the next bed was also about to delivery. I was asked to help out, so I grabbed two sterile gloves and bent over the table to help guide a healthy newborn out of the birth canal. I learned the patient was HIV positive, which added to the drama of the situation, and we had her consult with the HIV clinic soon after she had recovered from her birth.

Then I rushed back to the electricians to supervise, take pictures, answer questions, and simply marvel at the process. We’re first installing the overhead lighting in labor and delivery, next the maternity ward, and tomorrow, the operating theatre.

Today we actually tested the first overhead LED light in the maternity ward, to the cheers of the head nurse! Tonight will be their first night with continuous lighting. Unfortunately I won’t be there to witness it all, but I have a good reason. I’m in another city – bringing back a solar powered refrigerator to the hospital!

Miraculously, I negotiated the immediate installation of a solar powered blood bank refrigerator from Muyi Lawal, the head of Solar Electric Systems. This is a dream come true, because it means that mothers needing critical transfusions will not have to wait. It will most definitely save lives, as hemorrhage is the greatest cause of maternal mortality.

Muyi has become as invested in the success of WE CARE as I am, and offered to install the refrigerator before I had raised funding, and provide installation for free this week! The only problem was (1) securing funding, and (2) transporting the fridge from a warehouse 3 hours away, in the city of Jos. All of Muyi’s local workers and trucks were at the hospital, and we would need a rather large vehicle.

I spoke to Dr. Muazu, the head of the hospital, and we came up with a terrific solution: use the hospital ambulance. The hospital owns a fairly new ambulance that is in very good condition. With a little planning, we were able to commission the hospital driver to drive me to the warehouse to retrieve the new blood bank refrigerator. Muyi had to drive back to Jos, himself, and was eager to introduce me to his wife, who also works for his company. So today, after spending the morning doing my participant observations, I hopped in Muyi’s truck (with the hospital driver following) and made my way to Jos, Plateau.

The ride was lovely – wide plains with green trees and rural villages composed of mud huts with thatched roofs. It was actually more what I had imagined rural Nigeria would look like, and was a welcome change from the traffic, grime and fumes of Zaria.

We arrived at the warehouse around 6 pm, and I was shown the new refrigerator which looks absolutely terrific! We packed the ambulance with solar panels, a battery, a giant box containing a brand new blood bank refrigerator and additional lights for the labor room. While I was anxious to get back to Zaria, the truth is that it’s dangerous to drive at night in Nigeria. Between the bandits, the potholes, and the lack of lighting on the roads, no one would let me get in a car again. And…it turns out that Jos has a curfew at 9 pm following the terrible riots that occurred last year. So Muyi planted me in a guest house in Jos, and I’ll just have to imagine the experience of the patients and staff having their first continuous night of light in the labor room.


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