Zimbabwe is turning to solar power to light up clinics and hospitals amidst frequent power outages that pose a risk to women giving birth, according to Al Jazeera.
The county's power regulator increased electricity prices by 320%, which is the second increase in the last three months. In addition, rolling power outages — used in order to ration electricity — last up to 18 hours per day. The country has struggled to meet power demands for the last two decades.
Large referral hospitals in the country’s capital Harare are excluded from the daily power cuts. However, many facilities in the suburbs and rural areas reportedly face the cuts. As a result, women across the country are relying on candlelight or light from a cell phone when giving birth.
Solar power systems will be installed in clinics and hospitals across the country through a government initiative with the United Nations Development Programme and US-based We Care Solar, whose products are used in countries with unreliable electricity.
The company developed a portable “solar suitcase” that provides health care workers with lighting, mobile communication, and blood bank refrigeration. The solar-powered suitcase is being used in over 4,000 clinics around the world and there have been 2.5 million deliveries in clinics powered by the innovation.
Zimbabwe already faces a high maternal mortality rate — and the increasing power outages put more women at risk, as electricity is needed to operate equipment in hospitals and clinics. The World Health Organization (WHO) previously stated that maternal mortality remains high in Zimbabwe due to a "delay in receiving expeditious and effective care at the health facility," which is only worsened by the country’s power cuts.
The maternal mortality rate in the country is 614 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to 2014 data from the WHO. Maternal health-related issues were responsible for 12% of deaths of women from 2010 to 2011, according to UN Zimbabwe.
Al Jazeera reported that when Mitchell Matarause, 26, gave birth in a Harare clinic in September, midwives used candles to provide lighting.
"There was a candle on the table. I heard the midwives say that they could not see properly, so they had to use torches as additional light sources. As one midwife assisted me, the others held the torches," she told Al Jazeera. "I was just praying I deliver well, without complications. I feared the worst and sighed with relief when it was over."
Emmanuel Mahlangu, president of the Zimbabwe Confederation of Midwives, explained that regular childbirth during the day typically does not require much electricity, although power is essential when women deliver at night.
"A complicated delivery may require electricity for resuscitation of the baby, warmth from radiant heaters, lights and operative delivery," he told Al Jazeera.
These problems may be solved by the use of the solar suitcases. However, additional challenges exist which contribute to maternal mortality rates, such as religious and traditional objections to receiving blood transfusions and an "inadequate healthcare budget which seems to be worsening," reported the WHO.
Globally, about 295,000 women die every year, during and following pregnancy and childbirth, with roughly two-thirds of maternal deaths occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the WHO.