For Mothers and Babies, Light Means Life

By Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella

November 14, 2013

When I was a child in Sierra Leone, sometimes I studied by candlelight. When our mothers cooked in the kitchen using fire wood or charcoal they carried us on their backs. Sometimes, we played around them in the kitchen, all of us inhaling the smoke.  Decades later, many parts of my country and of Africa, especially in rural areas, are still excluded from the immense benefits of electricity.

The effects of such energy poverty can be seen most dramatically in health care, and especially in childbirth, where darkness can mean death, and where light can mean life. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Women face especially grave risks when they have to rely on a clinic that has no electricity.  Hundreds of thousands of health facilities in our world are dark at night.”

Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world. Recent studies done in the country by Dr. Mohamed Yillah and NGOs, under the DFID sponsored program called MAMAYE, have traced the primary cause to lack of electricity in local health care units, poor sanitation, and hemorrhaging.

Health workers struggle to provide care using candles, kerosene lanterns and flashlights. In many instances, they can’t even charge their cell phones for emergency calls at their work sites. According to the World Bank in 2010, a woman’s lifetime risk of dying of pregnancy related complications is 1 in 23.

WeCareSolarMillenium Development Goal 5 called for a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality rate by the end of 2015. Sierra Leone is making immense efforts to meet this goal. One outstanding program that is saving women’s lives is the installation of “Solar Suitcases” from We Care Solar, a nonprofit organization based in California.

We Care Solar’s all-in-one solar systems ensure that clinics have light, operable cellphones for emergency communication, and fetal Dopplers (for monitoring fetal heartbeats.) The We Care Solar Suitcase can be expanded to power other essential medical technology, such as blood bank refrigerators.

Sierra Leonean midwife Isha Daramy met Dr. Laura Stachel of We Care Solar in California. According to reports, Isha cried when she first saw the Solar Suitcase. She insisted Dr. Stachel and her team bring them to Sierra Leone. Dr. Stachel did not disappoint. She answered the call.

So far, 60 Solar Suitcases have been installed in clinics in Sierra Leone, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Around the world, more than 400 clinics now have reliable electricity from We Care’s Solar Suitcases. These clinics now have electricity for adequate treatment and care to the many pregnant women who come through their doors. More women keep coming and the number of nighttime deliveries with skilled care has risen dramatically in these clinics, reducing the number of women who die of complications from pregnancy and childbirth.

By providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and using solar electricity, We Care Solar reduces maternal mortality in developing countries.

Take Action Challenge

VOTE here for Laura for CNN Hero of 2013!

This year, Dr. Stachel was named a CNN Hero for her efforts in saving pregnant women and their children during childbirth. A pregnant woman’s survival must not depend on daylight. Help provide light to save another woman, another child’s life. Let’s build a better world by caring for each other. Remember to vote here daily to show your support for healthy childbirth around the world.

A version of this story also appeared in the Sierra Leone Telegraph 

Image of solar suitcase courtesy of We Care Solar.

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