'Solar suitcases' help lower maternal deaths in Uganda

With midwives being forced to deliver babies with light from mobile phones, government introduces ‘solar suitcases’ to lower maternal deaths

'Solar suitcases' help lower maternal deaths in Uganda

World Bulletin / News Desk

On the night of Aug. 6, 2013, Lily Akoko was working the night shift at a health center in a remote Ugandan town. 

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Lily said a woman and her 23-year-old pregnant daughter Sarah Nakut walked in at around 1:00 a.m.

“We did not have power and the only source of available light was a lantern,” she said. “We did not even have paraffin to light up the lantern.”

A remote town in northeast Uganda, electricity is one of the scarcest commodities in Napak, which is in the Karamoja region.

“Sarah walked in during the last minutes of her pregnancy and we had to deliver the baby immediately, using our mobile phones to light up the room,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Lily said it was one of the most difficult moments out of the many similar scenarios she has had to handle.

“I had to send her [Sarah’s] mother to look for paraffin, which is a kilometer away,” she said. “It was not pleasant for me.”

“With my phone in my mouth, I conducted the delivery but with difficulty,” she said.

According to Aida Girma, UNICEF’s representative in Uganda, although there are good policies and programs in place, the country’s health system is weak, services are under resourced and consequently progress remains slow in averting maternal and child deaths.

Thousands of mothers in Uganda still prefer to give birth at home and avoid health centers.

The Ugandan Ministry of Health is trying to tackle this problem with a pilot project of 'solar suitcases' in 10 districts in Karamoja region and three districts in the Acholi sub-region, both in northern Uganda.

According to the Ministry of Health, the national maternal mortality rate stands at 438 per 100,000 live births annually. The rate in Karamoja region stands at 750 and in Acholi sub-region at 561 per 100,000 live births.

Dr Jessica Nsungwa Sabiti, the Ministry of Health’s assistant commissioner for child health, told Anadolu Agency: “We know that many of our nurses are still putting torches in their mouths to help deliver these babies. This is why we found it to be a fundamental issue for intervention.”

The solar suitcase consists of a light, a battery and a charging system. With a panel that is placed on the health center’s roof, the movable lamp extension provides enough light for the ward at night.

Lily told Anadolu Agency that the suitcase also has a Doppler fetal monitor used to monitor the baby’s heart. 

“When I fail to get a fetal heart beat using my ears, I use the Doppler, which transmits the baby’s heartbeat for easy reading,” Lily said. 

The solar suitcase uses rechargeable batteries that last for 12 hours at a time.

“Now I can see clearly with this torch on my head,” Lily said, while smiling. “With complications such as bleeding, you need to see and know where the problem is coming from to deal with the situation.”

Instead of about 40 women per month giving birth at Apetolim health center, Lily said the number is now over 90 after the introduction of the solar suitcase.

“Imagine a baby born in the night and on coming out they see nothing but darkness,” Lily said. “I always joke that a baby won’t know if they have been born or not when they come out in the darkness.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Ağustos 2015, 11:35