Lighting the way for safer births

Lighting the way for safer births

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A mom and her newborn child. Photo credit: Jaime Kowal

We estimate more than 20 million women give birth in the dark each year, dramatically increasing their chances of life-threatening complications. Maternova is working to stop it and save their lives. Here are a couple of their most harrowing stories. By Allyson Cote and Meg Wirth

Imagine you’re in rural Uganda and you’re a woman about to give birth. While you may be fortunate to have assistance to deliver your baby, you’re in a room without power. There are no lights, no refrigeration and no sterilization for instruments. The fear weighs as heavily on you as the darkness of the room you are in. If only there were even one light, you’d feel so much safer to know this light will enable the caregiver to detect complications.

At Maternova, we believe and champion the simple solutions that save lives. One of our main missions is bringing light to women when they are their most vulnerable. For the past two years, we’ve been shipping our solar-powered clip light, which we provide in all our obstetric kits, around the world for the express purpose of providing a new mom the best chances for a safe delivery.

But this idea didn’t just happen overnight. It was sparked by hundreds of conversations with patients and caregivers from Palestine to Guatemala, from Papua New Guinea to Sierra Leone. Over and over, we heard the same story: Insufficient light was an issue dealt with by practically all midwives around the world.

In one case, we heard of a man – not allowed in the birth room due to cultural norms – who helped provide light for his wife to give birth by shining a candle through a hole in the wall and using a mirror to amplify the light.

We also have spoken with  midwives who have  held a flashlight in their teeth as they guided babies into the world before dawn or at midnight.  The advent of cell phones is often hailed as a new communication tool in global health, but to many soldiering midwives, the cell phone is a small torch or flashlight they use as poor substitute for proper lighting. This is something we need to work together to change.

Our estimate is that 20 million births occur each year in complete darkness.

These makeshift light sources work fine if there is not a problem. But imagine if the baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around a baby’s neck, or there was an onset of life-threatening bleeding. How does the midwife manage the problem?

One obstetrician in Uganda said her toughest case involved an obstetric emergency in the dark of night. The baby was stuck, had been stuck for days, and as is the case in 5 percent of all births, a C-section was needed to save the mother’s life. The health personnel had no light but a match and grabbed the calendar on the wall, lit it on fire, quickly performing a C-section as the fire consumed the calendar. We were told the surgery went well, and miraculously everyone survived. This isn’t always the case, and it’s totally preventable.

Rather than leaving the outcomes to chance or luck, it’s time to make access to energy a priority for all women, men and children. Solutions are available now, but we need your help.

Maternova is currently working hand-in-hand with an innovator to develop and commercialize a micro-grid power source to light  entire clinics. Help us make this dream a reality by supporting us and taking action with ONE to ensure that 50 million people in Africa get access to reliable electricity for the first time.

Join us by following our work lighting births & clinics on social media @maternova and on Facebook to find out how you can help.

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