How This "Suitcase" Is Saving Moms & Babies

by Jenn Rose

For women living in Uganda and many other developing regions of the world, giving birth at night can be a dangerous, even harrowing experience. Power outages in healthcare facilities are a common occurrence, and many facilities are completely off the grid, which often results in babies being delivered by the light of a flashlight, a lantern, or even a mobile phone. That's all changing now thanks to WE CARE Solar, an organization devoted to improving care facilities and reducing maternal and neonatal mortality. Each "Solar Suitcase" provides light for doctors delivering babies, and according to AJ Plus, part of the Al Jazeera Media group, the technology is already having a big impact in Uganda.

Midwife Esther Madudu used to resort to holding her phone in her teeth while delivering babies, as she explained to the outlet. But now that she has access to the Solar Suitcase, she's able to care for mothers and babies much more safely. “I can’t explain the happiness," she said. "It’s a different world. This is something we never expected in Tiriri, but we thank God that it has come.”

If you're wondering how it works, it's all pretty impressive. The device contains three LED lights as well as a charging port for mobile phones, which are critical for midwives should an emergency situation arise. It also powers a fetal doppler, a hand-held ultrasound transducer used to detect the fetal heartbeat.

In September, the United Nations awarded WE CARE Solar its first ever one-million-dollar UN-DESA Energy Grant to expand the Solar Suitcase program. Upon accepting the award, Laura Stachel, co-founder of We Care Solar, remarked, "I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of health workers who have seen the miracle of light and power in saving lives, and we have much more work to do. This award is the beginning of a brighter future for women everywhere. No woman should die giving life."

The World Health Organization reports that approximately 800 women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in developing countries — more than half in sub-Saharan Africa and almost one-third in South Asia. According to WHO, most of them are preventable. WE CARE Solar is slowly but surely helping to get us there. So far, the organization has distributed about 900 Solar Suitcases in 30 developing countries, and the hope is that the number just keeps growing, and that the technology can be brought to other parts of the world that need it most. While each Solar Suitcase costs $1,645 to create, the good they do is clearly beyond priceless.

Image: AJ+/YouTube