In 2008, Dr. Laura Stachel went to Northern Nigeria to study ways to lower maternal mortality in state hospitals.
"I found deplorable hospital conditions that impaired obstetric care," Stachel, an ob-gyn, told National Geographic. "Among the challenges were the lack of clean water, equipment and supplies. But most glaring was the lack of reliable electricity."
Without adequate power, Stachel told Fast Company, health workers struggled to provide care. Nighttime deliveries were attended in near darkness, cesarean sections were cancelled or conducted by flashlight, and critically ill patients were sometimes turned away.
Shocked by what she had seen, Stachel returned to Berkeley, Calif., and along with her husband co-founded WE CARE Solar -- an organization dedicated to improving maternal health outcomes in regions without reliable electricity.
Stachel's husband, Hal Aronson, who is a solar educator, immediately set to work designing a stand-alone solar electric system that was easy to deploy, simple to use and effective for medical settings.
The result? The Solar Suitcase, a rugged and portable solar electric kit, complete with solar panels, batteries, medical LED lights, headlamps and a fetal monitor.
More than 350,000 mothers die from pregnancy complications each year. According to the 2011 United Nations Millennium Development Goals report, "the majority of maternal deaths occur during or immediately after childbirth".
The majority of obstetric complications, Stachel told National Geographic, can be treated by skilled health providers. However, a lack of electricity and light means that even if those health providers are available, they often cannot provide the life-saving care that is needed.
Thanks to WE CARE's Solar Suitcases, which are providing reliable electricity to clinics in 17 countries, more than 15,000 mothers a year will be able to obtain emergency care 24 hours a day, saving countless lives.
Who knew a small suitcase could hold so much light?
Watch Stachel at Villanova University as she presents her work in bringing solar power to a maternal health clinic in Northern Nigeria: