Solar-Powered Solutions for Childbirth: Dr. Laura Stachel

April 12, 2010

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrant: Cynthia Demsey

Nominee: Dr. Laura Stachel, Founder of We Care Solar

Dr. Laura Stachel, an obstetrician, studying for her PhD in Public Health, founded We Care Solar to save the lives of mothers and infants by providing solar-powered solutions for skilled obstetric care.

Each year, over half a million women die from pregnancy complications in developing countries. Maternal mortality worldwide accounts for more than half a million deaths a year; 99 percent of these occur in underdeveloped countries. For every maternal death, at least 20 women suffer severe complications from childbirth.

While studying in Nigeria, Dr. Stachel observed firsthand that obstetric emergencies require prompt, appropriate, reliable medical and surgical care. Dr. Stachel saw how unreliable power and communication in health facilities results in life-threatening delays in reaching essential health personnel and inadequate lighting for obstetric and surgical procedures.

Upon her return from Nigeria, Dr. Stachel worked with her husband, Dr. Hal Aronson, a solar engineer, to develop a practical solution to the dire need for a reliable power system that can be transported anywhere in the world.

The solution is brilliant in its simplicity. That was the beginning of WE CARE SOLAR. A solar suitcase was the solution. WE CARE SOLAR designs solar-powered systems to meet essential maternity care needs. Their solar-powered systems are contained in portable suitcase-size systems that are immediately operational and expandable. It is designed to power, lighting, communication equipment and small devices.

The “solar suitcase” powers two overhead LED lighting, charges walkie-talkies and cell phones, and includes LED headlamps that come with their own rechargeable batteries. The first deployment of these systems occurred in June 2009. Now these systems have been introduced in nine countries. Most recently, they were asked to send solar suitcases to Haiti, where they are being used by medical relief teams and maternity clinics.

These systems are designed to be user-friendly, robust, durable, and nearly maintenance-free. They can be reproduced and easily installed in existing hospitals and clinics that have unreliable/problematic power systems. Improved surgical lighting, enhanced usage of existing medical equipment, and the establishment of a sustainable telecommunication system is being shown to reduce delays in providing care, and to increase the capacity of health workers to care for patients with obstetric complications. In addition, workers report more confidence in performing skilled care, and no longer fear night duty.

WE CARE Solar promotes safe motherhood and reduces maternal mortality in developing regions by providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and blood bank refrigeration using solar electricity.

The solar powered solution can make the difference between life and death by:

  • reducing delays in care;
  • increasing procedure safety; and
  • increasing hospital capacity to care for critically ill mothers.

Dr. Laura Stachel’s commitment to improving women’s health throughout the world resulted in a simple but brilliant design that will change the lives of millions of women and children. There is no limit to the positive impact that will be felt from her solar suitcase. I can think of no one who deserves to be called a hero more than Dr. Stachel.

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