Let There Be Light



In the developing world, childbirth is a risky and all too often fatal event.

In 2008, I watched a pregnant woman arrive in labor at a Northern Nigeria hospital. She lay on a metal table in the delivery room, bleeding, in need of an emergency c/section. The hospital had limited electricity, no monitors, and no telephone system. The midwife searched for hours for the surgical team. As darkness fell, time was running out for a safe delivery. I followed the emergency crew into the operating room. As the surgeons incised the uterus and delivered the baby, the lights went out….and the procedure could be completed only by the light of my own flashlight.

As an American obstetrician, I have studied emergency obstetric care in Africa for the last three years to understand why close to half a million women and millions of newborns die from pregnancy-related complications every year. I witnessed many scenes like the one I just recounted. I’ve seen nurses trying to administer intravenous medication by candlelight, obstetric procedures performed by kerosene lamps, and hospitals close their doors to pregnant women when the power is out. I’ve interviewed countless health providers to learn how they cope without reliable light.

Young women in labor do not have to die. In the U.S., I have treated pregnancy complications for years, and have never seen them result in death.

But to survive childbirth, women need hospitals and clinics with reliable electricity for light and power.

In 2008, I co-founded WECARE (Women’s Emergency Communication And Reliable Electricity) Solar. Our mission is to save lives of mothers and babies in childbirth by making solar simple.

My husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator, and I set out to design a low-cost, rugged, dependable, solar electric system that could fit in a suitcase. We called it the Solar Suitcase. We included overhead LED lights, headlamps, and walkie-talkies or cell phone chargers. The Solar Suitcase can be installed in minutes and is simple enough for anyone to use.

We have delivered 80 Solar Suitcases to health clinics and hospitals around the world, including Burma, Liberia, Nigeria, and Haiti. The suitcases power overhead LED lights, headlamps, laptop computers, and mobile communication devices. Expanded systems can power blood banks.

Giving birth should be a joyful experience – not a potentially life-threatening situation. After witnessing the reality of childbirth in developing countries, I can’t turn my back on these young women. They want what all mothers deserve: a safe delivery. With the help of a little box of solar power, WE CARE Solar is helping that to happen.

“Having the light changed everything,” reported one midwife. In her hospital, the maternal death rate dropped by 70% the year after we installed solar power. Midwives told me they are no longer afraid to work at night. They can easily call for help, promptly identify complications, and provide appropriate care for patients in need. Physicians can conduct c/sections throughout the night. As one Nigerian surgeon told me, “We can finally do the job we were trained to do.”

Take Action:  WE CARE Solar promotes safe childbirth in developing countries. Your donations allow them to fulfill requests from clinics around the world in need of Solar Suitcases. Donations help integrate new medical applications for the Solar Suitcase, establish new markets, and build a network of local Solar Suitcase trainers and technicians.  To find out how you can help, click here.