Solar panels save the lives of mothers and babies in Cambodia

In remote Chhloung District in Cambodia, the electricity supply is very unreliable. Khsach Andaet, one of the few health centres in the area, often has no lights and no power for vital medical equipment, making it incredibly difficult to support expectant mothers and their unborn babies in the darkness of night.

Doctors and nurses struggle to see what they`re doing when caring for patients, and are forced to rely on hand-held torches, battery-operated lamps, and even the light from their mobile phones when the power unexpectedly goes off.

Pregnant with her first child, Marady arrived at the Khsach Andaet Health Centre in advanced labour. Like many rural Cambodians in poor communities, going to the hospital was not an option €“ the high costs of transportation and hospital services were far more than she could afford.

By the time she arrived at the centre it was nearly 7.00pm and pitch black, the sun had set at 5.30pm. “The midwife said there was no electricity. I was so scared of the darkness. I was frightened my baby would be difficult to deliver. And I was terrified my baby would be in danger,” says Marady.

Like any new mother-to-be, Marady had been wishing for nothing more than a safe delivery and a healthy baby. But without power, both her life and that of her baby were put at risk.

There are many complications that can arise during childbirth, some of which are life-threatening. Severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure and obstructed labour regularly take the lives of mothers in Cambodia. Premature birth, infection, the placement of the umbilical cord around the neck of an unborn child and breach births are life-threatening situations for both mothers and their children.

Medical emergencies in Cambodia can usually be treated quickly. But when staff can`t see what they are doing, or don’t have access to the right equipment, the situation can quickly escalate.

When ChildFund staff spoke to Marady`s midwife, she describes how risky Marady`s labour had become: “Without electricity, it was difficult to give her an injection, as I couldn`t see her veins clearly. Sewing her stitches was also difficult with only a torch for light.”

The midwife adds: “I had to rush to find a battery light in the dark, and I kept running into desks and chairs. Marady`s relatives were also running around in panic, which made the situation even harder.”

Over 8,000 people rely on the Khsach Andaet Health Centre for vital medical care. While most patients come in for treatment during the day, almost all of the patients they treat at night are pregnant women about to give birth. What happened to Marady is far from unique.

But a simple innovation can make all the difference. ChildFund has been providing solar panels to rural clinics so they can generate their own electricity. This sustainable power source is enabling healthcare staff to provide essential, life-saving care to pregnant women and children €“ the most vulnerable members of communities.

Photo: Baby Vutra was born at Khsach Andaet Health Centre in rural Cambodia, in the dark

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