Many people tend to think of dilemmas specific to the medical field: the scarcity of skilled doctors and nurses in rural regions, scant supplies of medical instruments and medications, little or no access to health education for patients, and so on.
Obstetrician Laura Stachel thinks of a far more basic problem: the lack of electricity.
Over the past few years Dr. Stachel and her husband, a solar engineer, have been developing innovative energy solutions for rural clinics in developing countries – and she’s just been named a 2013 CNN Hero for her work.
During a 2008 trip to Nigeria, Stachel realized that the lack of electricity in hospitals and clinics was creating major – and at times tragic – problems for women during childbirth, problems at times caused by even the lack of basic lighting for the clinics at night. So she recruited her husband, Hal Aronson, to pool his energy expertise with her medical knowledge.
The result was We Care Solar, a non-profit organization that designs portable energy solutions primarily for health clinics that lack even basic access to electricity. Their key product is the “plug and play” Solar Suitcase – a portable, solar-powered solution tailored to meet the needs of medical professionals attending during difficult births. It provides light as well as a fetal heart rate monitor and other basic medical equipment needing electricity, takes almost no time to set up and is low maintenance.
Since 2009, Stachel has been working closely with governments in countries where access to energy is often unavailable, due to either lack of grid infrastructure or unstable access to the grid, to help distribute their devices to clinics in need of power.
The solar suitcase has already proven life-saving for women giving birth in rural clinics during the night.
“The first night after receiving the solar suitcase (from WE CARE Solar), I was able to save the lives of two women during difficult childbirth and provide the care they needed, because I could see.” said Dr. Jacques Sebisaho, who provides health care on Idjwi Island in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Before that we didn’t have any light at night.”
The solar suitcase is also being used to provide general lighting in small clinics, orphanages and other community settings. “For the first time in the history of the community where I work we didn’t lose anyone during a cholera outbreak because we could see during the night to place the IVs to provide life-saving medication to our patients,” Sebisaho added.
Dr. Stachel’s work has helped to shed fresh light on the connections between maternal health and energy access in developing countries. More than 1.3 billion people in those countries still lack access to even basic electricity in their homes and communities. In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that up to 40 percent of health clinics in 11 African countries they recently studied lack access to any energy services, hindering the ability of health care providers to deliver basic services. Renewable energy solutions such at the ones Dr. Stachel and her husband have devised are helping bring much-needed power to these areas.
When Ban Ki-moon took office as the UN Secretary-General in 2007, he immediately pushed for better healthcare and protection for women around the world and stronger global commitments to sustainable energy – efforts that eventually led to the creation of UN Women and his Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.
Dr. Stachel is helping to improve electricity in rural clinics and is simultaneously advancing women’s health and sustainable energy. She is a champion in this area, and I am delighted that she has been named a 2013 CNN Hero.
Take Action Challenge:
Read and share Dr. Stachel’s feature on CNN Heroes here, then visit WeCareSolar.org to learn more and donate to provide life-saving solar suitcases to clinics around the world.
Richenda Van Leeuwen is the Executive Director of the Energy Access Initiative at the United Nations Foundation and leads a network of 1,000 organizations delivering renewable energy solutions in developing countries, including We Care Solar. More information on the network can be found at www.energyaccess.org and by following her on Twitter @VanLeeuwenR
The United Nations Foundation works to build public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach. Through innovative campaigns and initiatives, the Foundation connects people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The Foundation was created in 1998 as a U.S. public charity by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner and now is supported by global corporations, foundations, governments, and individuals. For more information, visit www.unfoundation.org.
Photo credits: The Atlantic and Safe Mothers, Safe Babies