Stephanie Mork l Palladium - Apr 22 2024
Healthcare After Dark

Imagine giving birth by the light of flashlight or imagine a doctor tending to a birth with no light except the headlamp they’re wearing. Across Nigeria, many health care facilities do not have access to electricity and so can’t provide critical care after the sun goes down, making this scenario unfortunately commonplace. Without adequate light, there’s an increased risk of maternal deaths from delivery complications or other emergencies that might occur after dark.

While some health care facilities use generators, fuel is expensive and outages are frequent. It’s not unusual for some health care workers to use the flashlight on their phones to conduct deliveries. Ultimately, without electricity, health care providers can only provide care between dawn and dusk.
It’s an all too common issue and one that can be deadly for those seeking health care services and the providers trained to help.

To address this challenge, the USAID Integrated Health Program and the Kebbi State Ministry of Health partnered with We Care Solar, an American not-for-profit organisation that produces and installs Solar Suitcases, which power lighting, medical devices, and mobile communication for obstetric care in labour rooms in a travel-ready package.

The Solar Suitcases have four high-efficiency LED lights for medical task lighting, accessory sockets, two USB ports, and two expansion ports to allow for optional accessories or additional lights. They also include two rechargeable headlamps, a fetal Doppler, an infrared thermometer, and a battery charger. Beyond Nigeria, the Suitcases are in use in 49 countries worldwide.

So far, We Care Solar has donated and shipped 299 Solar Suitcases from the U.S., and 248 were installed in supported health facilities in Kebbi State. The rest will be used to replace suitcases that have been stolen or broken.

Let there be Light

Health care workers also don't need to worry as much about their own safety when their workplace is lit at night. Previously, without power, facilities were more susceptible to break-ins, or dangers from snakes or other animals.
“For me, the solar suitcase goes beyond providing light, it provides security and a sense of motivation for us as health care workers to do our job well,” says a midwife from the Ambursa health facility in Kebbi State.

To complement the installation of the suitcases, the USAID Integrated Health Program trained more than 500 health care workers on the use and maintenance of the Solar Suitcases. Within 9 months of the initial installations, the number of deliveries at health facilities with suitcases increased by 26%. Deliveries in a health facility are much safer than the alternative, which is usually a home delivery, oftentimes without the support of a skilled birth attendant.

“The impact of the We Care Solar Solar Suitcase is a timely initiative that has spanned beyond the health sector to the educational and agricultural sectors in Kebbi State,” explains Dr. Julie Yemi-Jonathan, Nigeria Country Program Manager for We Care Solar.

Beyond improving the quality of care in health facilities, it’s become a benefit for local communities as well. In some places, children are using the light at the health facilities to work on homework or read. IHP’s partnership with We Care Solar has resulted in community wide improvements to health, education, and overall well being.

There are even local farmers who use the Solar Suitcases to charge their phones.

With proper maintenance and upkeep, the suitcases should last 7-10 years, providing benefits for those in the community well beyond the health facility. Maintenance will be included in the Kebbi State Government’s statewide maintenance program to ensure life-saving equipment in health facilities across the state are in good working condition.

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