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Childbirth via “solar suitcase”

The UN Foundation's Adele Waugaman relates an inspiring story of how a doctor can deliver babies even without electricity:

When obstetrician Laura Stachel arrived in rural Nigeria to collect data about maternal care, she was shocked to discover that women were dying in childbirth because clinics had no reliable power supply.

After taking a course on solar electricity, she created what she calls the "solar suitcase" - which is now proving a life-saver in one of the hospitals she visited.


In the northern city of Zaria, Laura found that the lone public hospital had only 160 hospital beds for a population of 1.5 million, and that electricity was available no more than 12 hours a day.  There was no running water in the delivery room, and no blood bank because intermittent access to electricity meant the blood couldn't be refrigerated reliably.

Laura's "solar suitcase", a kit of solar panels and rechargeable batteries, can light operating and delivery rooms, run a blood bank refrigerator and power two-way radios so that staff can call in off-duty doctors for emergency surgery.

To help solve the problems Laura was dealing with in Nigeria was exactly that reason that humanitarians and technical experts were meeting at the Humanitarian Technology Challenge this week.  Visit Reuters AlertNet for Adele's whole piece.

(image of Nigerian mother and child, from flickr user Soumik Kar under a Creative Commons license)

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Follow this feed – Tech4dev

You should be following the Tech4dev on twitter, because, if you were, you would have gotten this shocking statistic quicker:

1.6B ppl live "off the grid"; 80% of them on $1-$2/day. Yet in Kenya, these homes spend $200/yr on alt energy - fuel, etc.

That $200 a year (out of $365 for those who live on $1/day) goes toward lighting and cooking fuel, mobile phone charging, dry cell batteries, and car-battery charging.

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Beep beep

At the HTC, Richard Baseil is currently comparing the group's solutions search to Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Full disclosure, it's my favorite cartoon (though I do love the weirdness of the Smurfs, Dad).

Baseil, who led my breakout group yesterday and is generally a very personable guy, notes that Coyote, carnivorous vulgaris, had a multitude of possible solutions -- earthquake pills, a rocket-powered sled...just a plain rocket, jet engine roller skates, etc. -- and even the support of a major supplier, Acme (one of the many reasons I love Wikipedia). However, he had major operational issues. He had the technology but no good way to implement that technology.

The message, just like Kathy Calvin's yesterday, is that the products alone are not enough. You've got to have usable standards, have plans for operations, administration, and maintenance, and be driven by an economic implementation plan. This has been a rucurring theme here, and I think a message to the engineers in the room.

After the jump, an olive branch to Megadeth

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Real mHealth data

Ken Banks, the brilliant creator of FrontlineSMS, is now delivering a Lawrence-Lessig-style presentation at the Humanitarian Tech Challenge.  It's all interesting and worth comment, but right now he's talking about a friend of his who took "a laptop and 100 used cell phones" to St. Gabriel's Hospital in Malawi.

That small amount of equipment served 250,000 people, saved $3500 in fuel costs and saved 1,000 hours in travel time. Incredible.

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The of tech for development

Kathy Calvin, COO of the UN Foundation, just officially opened the Humanitarian Tech Challenge conference, laying down some knowledge on partnership building.  She called the HTC a version of and eHarmony for the tech set -- "a tall, dark problem in search of intelligent solution." 

She also praised the group for not falling into the common trap of getting sidetracked by fascination with shiny new technology, but instead keeping its eyes on the problems.  That was the whole point of today, building that framework built on a narrow set of challenges.

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Knowing the secret handshake

Know how I know these guys (slow down, they're literally all guys) know what they're doing?  Demonstrated innovation and adaptation.

In the beginning of the break-out session, we were asked to take a piece of paper, fold it, and make a name placard, as our name tags were delayed by FedEx. 

By the end of the session, mine had sadly collapsed on itself, the sides bowing under the minor weight of the peak.  But, I looked around the room and noticed that most of the placards had their top corners dog-eared, keeping the sides taut.  Their placards stood up, proud.

Now there are two possibilities. First, I could just be an idiot, having never noticed this practice in the hundreds of sessions I've attended. In other words, this could be a widely accepted practice. Option two, which I'm much more fond of, is that one participant dog-eared his placard, built a new widget (with a scalable idea no less), and the rest of the room used that technology to their own advantage.

Tomorrow I'll be ready:

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Shocking lack of access

As I mentioned earlier, I'm hanging out at this Humanitarian Tech Challenge conference today and tomorrow.  The overriding purpose is to define challenges and set up a framework for building solutions, first tackling reliable electrical power, data connectivity for rural health offices, and patient IDs tied to health records.

Perhaps its the latent bureaucrat in me, but I love this stuff. People sitting in a room debating the fine points of building an abstract framework...seriously and sincerely, I love it.  Unfortunately, I could only hit one of three, the breakout session on providing reliable electrical power for developing countries. Fellow UNFer Mitul Shah promised the discussion would be "shocking."

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Blogging the Humanitarian Technology Challenge

Just a heads up that I'll be camped out at the Humanitarian Tech Challenge today and tomorrow, sending back reports.  HTC, a partnership between the IEEE and the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership, seeks to define and develop sustainable solutions to humanitarian challenges in the developing world.  These solutions should be able to be implemented locally and "within the environmental, cultural, structural, political, and socio-economic conditions where they will be deployed."

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Rwanda’s mHealth Boom

Philip Gourevitch is not the only one who's traveled to Rwanda recently and appreciated the extent to which it's "a country looking and moving forward, not back."  This eyes-on-Singapore approach is particularly evident in the field of technology. The UN Foundation's Claire Thwaites reports on one of Rwanda's more encouraging public health-related tech developments:

Supported by the Rwandan Ministry of Health, Voxiva, and the Treatment Research and AIDS Centre (TRAC), TRACnet is an electronic records system that can be uploaded to mobile phones. In Masaka it is being used to track and record the distribution of anti-retroviral medications, ensure drug adherence, electronically create and submit patient reports, and access the most up-to-date information about HIV/AIDS care and treatment.


In Masaka, I was guided through the health clinic by the local program manager, Hareuhana Diaedonne. During the tour, Hareuhana spoke at length about the simple but significant benefits that have been brought about by the introduction of mobile phones to the local healthcare system. Using TRACnet, he reported, data entry that used to take months to record and aggregate now can be collected in just 5 minutes.

President Paul Kagame has made a point to emphasize that he thinks Rwanda's way forward is through investment, not foreign assistance.  Pushing mobile health technology seems like a perfect opportunity to both attract investment and improve the quality of the country's public health care system.