GHIC 2015: Global Health & Innovation Conference
March 28-29, 2015
Yale University, New Haven, CT

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:

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

Large-scale project profiles

Key Takeaways