News / USA

American Obstetrician Offers Solar Solution for Developing Countries

Laura Stachel, husband find way to fill basic need for reliable power

Dr. Laura Stachel with a 'solar suitcase,' which powers two overhead LED lighting, charges walkie-talkies and cell phones and includes LED headlamps that come with their own rechargeable batteries.
Dr. Laura Stachel with a 'solar suitcase,' which powers two overhead LED lighting, charges walkie-talkies and cell phones and includes LED headlamps that come with their own rechargeable batteries.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

Standard medical supplies might seem like an important donation in developing countries but American obstetrician Laura Stachel saw the need for something even more basic: reliable power.

Basic need

Stachel is crouching on the floor of her Berkeley kitchen, which is cluttered with spools of wire, small solar panels and assorted tools. She lifts the cover of a black carry-on suitcase. There are no clothes inside, just a sheet of plywood mounted with four electrical components.

Stachel quizzes aid volunteer Paul Lacourciere, who is leaving for earthquake-ravaged Haiti in a few days. He'll take the solar suitcase with him, and plans to deliver it by donkey to a remote medical clinic that currently depends on candles for light.

Stachel's husband, Hal Aronson, suggested a sun-powered solution to the power outages that hamper medical care in developing nations.
Stachel's husband, Hal Aronson, suggested a sun-powered solution to the power outages that hamper medical care in developing nations.

"We have a charge controller that's regulating the energy that's coming in from the panel," says Stachel. "It's allowing us to store energy in the battery and not either overcharge the battery or else not overly discharge."

Solar solution

Stachel may sound like a solar engineer, but she's not.

The idea for the suitcase grew out of her work on maternal-child health in Nigeria. While observing a hospital there in 2008, she learned power was rationed for several hours each day.

"One of the first cases that I watched, a C-section, the lights completely went out during a C-section and the physicians had to finish by flashlight," she says. "There were other situations where midwives were taking care of women who were bleeding to death and they needed emergency surgery and there was no phone system to call a doctor."

Dr. Laura Stachel helped develop the 'solar suitcases' that are now used in nine countries.
Dr. Laura Stachel helped develop the 'solar suitcases' that are now used in nine countries.

Stachel described the problems in emails to her husband, Hal Aronson, who promotes solar energy. He suggested a sun-powered solution. When she got home, they designed a large permanent solar installation for the hospital. But Stachel wanted a smaller version, first.

"I asked him to create something I could bring in my suitcase that I could take through customs without having to declare any special equipment, and that would allow me to show workers in the hospital what LED lights were like, how walkie talkies worked, how we could recharge rechargeable batteries for the headlamps."

Sought-after suitcase

Stachel says no one at the Nigerian hospital would let her take the trial suitcase away and she was suddenly getting requests for the power units from medical clinics all over Nigeria. Now she gets them from all over the world. That's how their organization, WE CARE Solar, was born.

This solar-powered LED spotlight is tested in labor and delivery by a midwife.
This solar-powered LED spotlight is tested in labor and delivery by a midwife.

"We didn't mean to turn our house into the solar suitcase factory," says Aronson, "but it happened. It's been fun."

The solar suitcases don't just provide light and communication. They can be expanded to power ultrasound and suction machines and other basic medical equipment. Stachel estimates that each suitcase costs about $1,000.

There are about 20 units now working in Nigeria, Tanzania, Mexico, Haiti, and on the Thai-Burmese border.

Going global

Stachel says she and her husband are trying to keep up with demand and funding.

"One of our dreams is to be increasing the capacity locally by increasing training by getting shipments of equipments into countries and to teach people how to make solar suitcases where they live so they can have their own industries and can supply these for their hospitals and health care centers."

In the meantime, there's a steady stream of visitors to their house. Before Lacourciere leaves, Stachel brings him a big bag of accessories to add to the suitcase. It includes items such as extension cords and batteries.

"Multiple light bulbs, headlamps, anything you'd want to include and we have an instruction manual. We have it so far in English and French and Paul's team is working on making a translation into Creole for Haiti," says Stachel.

Once Lacourciere leaves their home for his trip to Haiti, Stachel and Aronson remain at their kitchen table, working over another set of solar panels.

An African doctor headed to Zimbabwe is coming by for his suitcase within the hour.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid