By: Rati Bishnoi, Women Deliver
Saving the lives of mothers and babies depends on having more than the right health care and interventions. The best facilities, caregivers, and interventions won’t improve maternal and neonatal health care delivery if basic needs for power, water, and sanitation aren’t available.
Unfortunately, many parts of the world with the worst maternal and neonatal health outcomes also have severe infrastructure issues. While unreliable access to basic needs hampers all aspects of life, it can be especially crippling to those with special needs or health conditions. For example, pregnant women, their unborn and newborn babies, and their health care workers all face daunting challenges brought by the cover of darkness that can complicate even normal deliveries. For complicated deliveries, weak access to an adequate light source can mean the difference between life and death.
Faced with power outages occurring several times a week and lasting for up to 12 hours per night, some women in Uganda’s Iganga District decided they had to do something to make night births in their area safer. Several years ago, a local women’s group noticed that the offices of Safe Mothers, Safe Babies—a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the diverse structural and cultural contributors to poor maternal and child health in rural communities—had a small solar unit on the roof. The women’s group approached Safe Mothers, Safe Babies to ask if the solar unit could be moved to the local health center. One of the group’s representatives said, “We are scared to deliver there at night. The nurses cannot see to help us, so we don’t want to go there.”
Soon after, Safe Mothers, Safe Babies installed the solar unit at the local health center and began educating the community about the benefits of giving birth in facilities. The results were dramatic. In six months, the center nearly doubled its number of deliveries, prenatal care attendance, and HIV/STD testing, and reduced neonatal and maternal deaths.
Recognizing these benefits—and limitations—of the solar unit they used, Safe Mothers, Safe Babies formed a partnership with WE CARE Solar, a non-profit organization that promotes safe motherhood and reduces maternal morality by providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and blood bank refrigeration using solar electricity. WE CARE Solar has developed the Solar Suitcase, an independent solar electric system that was specifically designed to operate in harsh elements with both very bright and low-power LED lights. Switching to lower power lights is useful because it can help conserve energy, especially in instances where cell phone or power medical devices need to be charged. So far, the suitcase has been help light births in 14 countries.
Under their “Light the Night” partnership, Safe Mothers, Safe Babies and WE CARE Solar has installed 20 Solar Suitcases in 18 health centers and hospitals across rural Uganda as well as provided maternal and reproductive health educational services to the local community. These activities include working with civil society organizations, using performances to talk about maternal health, and collaborating with men’s groups to host discuss views on family planning and birthing practices. Light the Night has built partnerships with the African Medical and Research Foundation’s Uganda Chapter and the Ministry of Health in efforts to expand the program.
It is important to note that devices like the Solar Suitcase offers only an interim solution and cannot make up for weak, broken, or non-existent reliable sources of electricity. Despite this important consideration, Light the Night is a solution that is offering an immediate solution to preventable maternal and neonatal deaths.
Youtube video courtesy of SafeMSB