We Care Solar was founded to address the challenge of energy access in healthcare and the loss of life occurring in facilities crippled by darkness and unreliable power. The unacceptable reality is that millions of women in LMICs deliver in dark and unsafe conditions. Every woman and newborn has the right to safe childbirth. The Light Every Birth Initiative calls for every health center to have access to clean reliable power. To date, we have equipped 6,200 health facilities serving 7.5 million mothers and newborns with our innovative Solar Suitcase technology. Our training programs build local capacity in solar installation and promote women as leaders. We work closely with governments and a range of development partners to build robust, sustainable programs. We promote widespread adoption of solar for healthcare.
We Care Solar Suitcase developed an economical, rugged, easy-to-use and complete solar power system, the Solar Suitcase, to address energy poverty in last mile centers. It provides health workers with: • A safe, pre-wired complete solar electric system • Waterproof, break-resistant, 70,000 hour medical LED lights • Rechargeable LED head lamps • A fetal Doppler heart rate monitor • An infrared no-touch thermometer • Power for mobile communication and medical devices We Care Solar developed an ecosystem of health, technical, funding and government partners for our Light Every Birth initiative. Together, we conduct the following activities: (1) Health facility energy assessments, (2) Training programs that build local capacity in solar installation, operation and maintenance, (3) Solar Suitcase installations with and quality control oversight, (4) Health worker trainings, and (5) Development of a collaborative strategies to ensure program sustainability. We work closely with government ministries, clarifying roles and responsibilities with signed Memorandum of Understandings. Health facilities are selected for programming by meeting the following criteria: (1) offer around-the-clock MCH services by skilled professions, (2) have a significant lack of reliable electricity, and (3) be physically suitable for an installation. Our workshops are often led by our Women Solar Ambassadors who were trained to conduct dynamic classroom sessions and on-site mentorship. Our curriculum is gender-inclusive and we promote women as installers. We train local staff and government technicians in technical skills, teaching pedagogy, troubleshooting and long-term maintenance. We collect and evaluate health data and interview health workers and program staff to document the impact of our work.
Qualitative analyses and a recent RCT reveal medical care significantly improves when the Solar Suitcase is introduced to health centers lacking reliable electricity. Health workers can assess patients, conduct routine and emergency procedures, maintain good hygiene, institute infection control, and monitor patients throughout the night. The fetal Doppler allows health workers to assess fetal well-being and detect distress. Phone charging ensures that emergency referrals happen when needed. Health workers report greater confidence at night and increased ability to provide care. Well-lit health facilities report greater utilization by community members. Amref conducted a 3-year, multi-intervention trial of We Care Solar Suitcases in 100 Ugandan health facilities, resulting in an 80% increase in night-time deliveries, a 50% decrease in maternal mortality and a 63% decrease in perinatal deaths. Program evaluations by Pathfinder in Nigeria and Tanzania demonstrated similar findings
Our formalized set of Light Every Birth best practices draw upon lessons learned from years of programming. This road map for high impact programs provides insights on establishing governmental relationships and MOUs, efficient shipping and clearance, building strong partnerships, conducting effective trainings and high-quality installations, and creating protocols for product maintenance and program sustainability. Enabling conditions included advances in solar/battery technology and growing recognition of linkages between energy and health. Logistical constraints included import restrictions, increasing costs, and COVID-related challenges.
The Solar Suitcase was designed for scalability. By creating a robust solar electric system and incorporating partner organizations, we have a system for replication and scalability wherever health facilities are in need. Light Every Birth expands our Solar Suitcase programs to the national level. We collaborate with national ministries of health and work through their district health systems and partner with proven NGOs to deliver better maternal healthcare in remote areas. Solar Suitcase distributions are built upon a foundation of existing staff, local participation, and a legacy of trusted regional relationships. Program sustainability is a priority for We Care Solar. A cornerstone of our programs is to foster local ownership, working with governments to ensure that renewable energy for healthcare is prioritized in their strategy and activities. When we sign MOUs with the government, we create sustainability plans to handover our programs to government agencies within five years.
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We faced the challenges of COVID-19 in a number of ways. The We Care Solar Suitcase immediately enhances the capacity of health facilities to better contain the spread of the virus, provide diagnostic services, and make appropriate referrals. Despite shelter-in-place mandates, governments deemed the Solar Suitcase program an “essential activity” and urged We Care Solar to accelerate activities. To minimize the spread of infection during installations, we developed safety guidelines to protect our solar installers and to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus from one health facility to the next. With uncertainty around the resumption of ordinary travel and group meetings, We Care Solar has adapted its protocols, shifting some trainings, outreach, and mentoring to virtual platforms.
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We Care Solar serves some of the most impoverished populations in Africa and Southeast Asia. Most of our programs are located in rural communities where beneficiaries include (1) families in need of frontline health services, (2) vulnerable mothers and their newborns, (3) healthcare workers providing primary care. We have dozens of partnerships with national and district governments, UN agencies, and local and international NGOs.