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Solar power company d.light is providing light in rural community health clinics across Africa, helping tackle the electricity barrier that previously meant mothers would have to give birth in darkness.

Lack of electricity is a major issue in healthcare facilities in low and lower-middle income countries. A report by the World Health Organisation published in January 2023 estimates that nearly 1 billion people in such counties attend healthcare facilities with either unreliable electricity or none at all.

“Electricity access in health-care facilities can make the difference between life and death,” said Dr Maria Neira, Assistant Director-General a.i, for Healthier Populations at WHO.

“Investing in reliable, clean and sustainable energy for health-care facilities is not only crucial to pandemic preparedness, it’s also much needed to achieve universal health coverage, as well as increasing climate resilience and adaptation.”

California, US-based d.light is aiding so-called ‘off-grid’ health clinics by installing its solar-powered lights and alternate power supply, giving the clinics capabilities to provide treatment at night. One area of great benefit highlighted by d.light is the flexibility it will give expectant mothers in labour. 

Dr Ajayi Olaluwa, chief matron at the Basic Healthcare Centre in Okitipupa, a community 140km East of Lagos in Nigeria, said: “Before d.light, we would be looking for torchlight in the middle of the night to deliver babies. We no longer have to go through that stress.”

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Lack of electricity contributes to higher rates of maternal death in Africa compared to countries in Europe. The installations by d.light, which has now reached over 600 clinics, will provide reliable artificial light along with off-grid energy systems, and allow buildings to extend their operating hours. This means that more women in rural communities who enter labour during the night can use an operational clinic to give birth.

Earlier in August, the company freed up $125m worth of funding to scale up its solar-powered products across low-income households in Tanzania.

A representative from d.light told Medical Device Network that the devices are high-efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) lights that produce more than 140 Lm/W. They also added that the lights were donated to the clinics.

“With d.light’s solar-powered products, expectant mothers no longer have to give birth in darkness. Clinic staff can also admit and care for other patients at night more easily when there’s a safe source of light available,” said d.light co-founder Ned Tozun.

“For rural health clinics in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, access to artificial light can mean the difference between receiving vital care and treatment or not.”