Unite for Sight’s 2010 Global Health & Innovation Conference
Blog Report By Abby Hannifan, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern
The Health of Women and Children Session
The four presentations in the third session I attended at Unite for Sight’s Global Health & Innovation Conference were as follows:
- “The Unfinished Child Survival Agenda,” by David Oot, Save the Children
- “Where There is No Light: Using Solar Power to Reduce Maternal Mortality in Developing Regions,” by Laura Stachel, co-founder of WE CARE Solar
- “Preterm Birth: Global Prevalence and Opportunities for Intervention in Middle- and Low-Income Countries,” by Christopher P. Howson of the March of Dimes Foundation
- “Large-Scale Effectiveness Evaluations of Maternal and Child Programs in Low-Income Countries: A New Approach,” by Agbessi Amouzou of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
While all four presentations focused on best practices, interventions, monitoring, and evaluation for maternal and child health programs, I would like to in particular expound upon Laura Stachel’s presentation on alternative energy and improved maternal outcomes.
The primacy of renewable energy in sustainable international development has been widely acknowledged in the past few years. The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), an aftereffect of Germany’s 2004 Bonn International Conference for Renewable Energies, works to demonstrate “the potential contribution of renewable energy to poverty alleviation and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” as described in their paper prepared by The Worldwatch Institute. With roughly 1.6 billion people lacking electricity in their homes globally—and an additional 2.4 billion people relying on biomass fuel such as straw, manure, and wood chips to cook meals—expansion of electricity grids and comprehensive allocation of modern, convenient, and affordable energy services are essential to reduce the power gap between rich and poor. Constrained energy options hinder economic development by placing a physical burden of gathering cooking materials on women and children; contributing to deforestation and soil depletion; restraining communication and transportation systems; and compromising health by necessitating inefficient stoves that contaminate indoor air. REN21 asserts that the international community’s inclusion of a more diverse energy portfolio (one that includes wind, solar, geo-thermal, hydro, and bioenergy in addition to traditional fossil fuels) could greatly contribute to this gap reduction.
In Nigeria, Laura Stachel, an obstetrician/gynecologist, witnessed first-hand the effects of unreliable electricity on women’s health. In WE CARE Solar’s promotional video, she mentions that approximately 536,000 women die each year due to pregnancy complication, and for every woman who dies, 20 suffer from severely debilitating complications. The majority of women deliver at home, and for those who deliver at home, 97% do not have electricity. If a complication occurs, the only shot these women have at survival is to navigate the severely deficient transportation system to get to a hospital. Even the hospitals, though, are dangerous places when lack of electricity impairs the functioning of medical equipment (ultrasound machines, suctioning instruments, etc.), blood bank refrigeration, and emergency-response telephone systems. In search of a solution, Laura collaborated with a pilot hospital to install photovoltaic panels, in effect harnessing the sun’s natural energy as opposed to the unpredictable state-sponsored electricity rationing. This renewable energy addition has dramatically transformed maternal health outcomes. Scaling it up and incorporating alternative power into the national energy agenda would take government willingness to invest more public funding on the front-end for equipment and installation, as well as a strengthening of rural financial options. While these obstacles are daunting, especially for developing nations already encumbered by other economic strains, long-term outcomes appear incredibly promising.
For more examples of how alternative energy sources are being utilized to change the distribution of poverty, check out the following sampling:
Small-scale project profiles
- KXN Nigeria Ltd has installed 189 PV-powered vaccine fridges in Northern Nigeria. Vaccines are temperature-sensitive and can deteriorate quickly if erratic diesel generators give out. Read more here.
- Solar Cookers International replaces conventional cooking devices in poor countries with solar cookers, eliminating toxic chemical emissions and freeing women and children from the burden of collecting and transporting heavy firewood. Watch their promotional video here.
- Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) emphasizes turning wastes into resources. Based out of Haiti, this non-profit organization collects human waste from public toilets and converts it to high-yield fertilizer, improving public sanitation and agricultural productivity. Watch Nicholas Kristof’s feature on their organization here.
Large-scale project profiles
- The United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank have teamed up for a project that aims to incentivize Brazil, China, and India to significantly increase their investments in energy efficiency. Read more here.
- The Rural Energy Enterprise Development initiative provides green energy entrepreneurs in the developing world with seed grants and technical support for their enterprises. So far, they have supported businesses in energy-efficient stove manufacturing, solar crop drying, wind water pumping, and biodiversity preservation.
- A unique development initiative, the Clean Development Mechanism, is an ancillary measure of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It allows a developed country with an emission-reduction strategy to implement complementary emission-reduction projects in a developing country.
- Alternative energy sources have an integral place in the economic development of Third World countries.
- Solar power and other renewables have the potential to transform health service delivery.
- Collaboration between industrialize and developing countries on the design and implementation of clean energy projects is essential to progress in environmental endeavors.