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

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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid