Babies arrive when they want to, including, of course, at night. From a developed-country perspective, this is hardly notable. But in some places a lack of reliable electricity can plunge childbirth into a dangerous darkness, leading to strikingly high maternal mortality rates in countries such as Nigeria.
Enter the Solar Suitcase. As reported by the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, this portable, self-contained solar power system opens to reveal a photovoltaic panel on one side and long-life batteries on the other. The rechargeable batteries power high-efficiency lighting and a fetal Doppler baby monitor that come with the case – and can also be used to power or charge communications equipment that could come in handy during difficult medical situations.
The Solar Suitcase was developed by Dr. Laura Stachel, who saw the need for something like it while working in Nigeria, and her husband Hal Aronson, described by in the Atlantic article as a “long-time solar tinkerer.”
The couple founded the organization We Care Solar, and deployed the first Solar Suitcase in June 2009.
The Suitcase has now gone out to 14 countries. To gauge its success, We Care has been conducting research in Liberia, where it reports that “the feedback has been uniformly great,” with the suitcases being used to power lights, cell phones and other devices. And it’s changing how women in villages view childbirth: “We’re told that the overhead LED lights in the labor rooms are attracting more women to deliver in clinics at night,” We Care said. “This means more women are having skilled providers at their births.”