Solar lamps are not the first piece of equipment that comes to mind when thinking about the tools required to deliver a baby. But in Nigeria’s Cross River state, they have had an impact in improving quality of maternal health.
Since 2016, the Saving Mothers Giving Life (SMGL) initiative, supported by USAID, in collaboration with We Care Solar have installed 50 solar electric suitcases to ‘light childbirth’ in 97 health facilities in the state and improve the quality of care. The solar lamps are an attempt to respond to an infrastructural deficit and its debilitating effect on the quality of care for maternal health.
Poor equipment status in most health facilities – including lack of access to electricity - is one of the factors contributing to the delay in receiving timely and appropriate maternity care. In fact, according to a health facility assessment carried out in 2015 in Cross River state by the State Government and the SMGL initiative, only 57 % of the 812 assessed facilities had access to electricity, 23 % had functional electricity, with the rest relying on kerosene lanterns or battery-powered torches to provide care.
The facilities fitted with a solar suitcase were either without access to the electrical grid, had a poor supply of electric power, frequent blackouts of more than 24 hours per week, or poorly functioning alternate energy sources. And it worked: for these facilities which hitherto had been delivering babies, and providing maternal and newborn care in near-darkness, the lighting solution helped reduced the facility maternal mortality ratio by 55% and the perinatal mortality rate by over 40% in two years.
‘Before, we used to take deliveries with kerosene lanterns, but with the support of SMGL initiative the story has changed. We are now able to provide better care to our mothers’ says Grace Effiom, Officer-in-charge of Primary Health Center, Odukpani.
The solar suitcases, when used to light up child birth in resource constrained settings can facilitate timely and appropriate emergency obstetric and newborn care, as well as improve quality of care.
‘When we have complicated cases like retained placenta at night and there is no light, we become helpless with no alternative than to refer. With this solar suitcase, we would not need to refer cases we can handle on our own when they occur at night’, according to Patricia Bassey, Community Health Extension Worker- Primary Health Center, Ikot Omin.
This initiative is meant to grow, thanks to the involvement, from the get go, of the Ministry of Health, which is providing the technicians to install and maintain the solar suitcases and has pledged to expand it to more facilities.