The organization was founded in 2009 by Aronson and his wife, Dr. Laura Stachel. In 2008, when Dr. Stachel was studying ways to lower maternal mortality in state hospitals in Northern Nigeria, she witnessed how without a reliable source of electricity, medical procedures can become more complicated and mortality rates rise. The pair began tinkering with the idea of a durable, portable device that could provide steady electricity to clinics and maternity wards.
The resulting “We Care Solar Suitcase” powers overhead LED lighting, charges cell phones, and includes LED headlamps that come with rechargeable batteries. Since the first developments, the suitcases have now been deployed in more than twenty countries.
In 2013, We Care Solar worked with White Ribbon Alliance and AMREF Health Africa to launch Saving Lives at Birth. The initiative provided Solar Suitcases equipped with fetal Dopplers, headlamps, phone chargers, and laptop computers; education for health workers; an electronic Health Management Information System; and community sensitization training to increase awareness and demand for maternal-newborn services to 100 primary health facilities in Southwest Uganda for 3 years.
Studies of the initiative found that 24-hour lighting was critical, especially during delivery and post-partum. With improved lighting from Solar Suitcases, health workers were able to stay on duty longer and mothers no longer had to pay for kerosene, candles, or torches. In addition, phone charging allowed community health workers to easily make emergency referrals.
Overall, Solar Suitcase and laptops increased staff motivation and confidence, resulting in less absenteeism. There was a 66 percent increase in skilled deliveries over the period, including a rise in nighttime deliveries by 80 percent. As a result of the combined interventions, health facility-based perinatal deaths decreased by 73.5 percent, and the rate of facility-based maternal deaths dropped by 53 percent.
Dr. Aronson and Dr. Sachel also developed an educational program, We Share Solar, which encourages youth to link science and technology with humanitarian service. The program combines solar energy and engineering education with real-world applicability. Teachers cultivate interests in STEM and inspire students to meet immediate needs in the developing world.
We were fortunate enough to speak with Dr. Aronson on our podcast Social Design Insights. Have a listen at the link above.