Friday, April 22, 2016

Between 2006 and 2016, the number of U.S. households with solar panels increased from just 30,000 to more than one million. It’s a huge milestone for renewable energy efforts in the U.S. and a household trend that is expected to increase to almost four million homes by 2020. While it would be nice to give ourselves a pat on the back, the truth is that many third-world countries are struggling to get power into their villages and homes for some of the most basic human needs, like cooking, heat, and light.

What’s more, electricity deficits are a huge problem for hospitals, where general healthcare is limited and often dangerously inaccessible to people that need it most.

In the Dark

Take a look at Idenau, on the southwest coast of Cameroon, and you’ll see just how dire things can get. For mothers in particular, health risks associated with childbirth are a serious problem.

According to the United Nations Population Fund in Cameroon, 58,000 children under the age of five die every year, and 7,000 women lose their lives to pregnancy-related complications. Electricity deficits are only part of the problem; the other problem is a severe lack of information.

But thanks to a Canadian engineer, the women and children of Cameroon are hopeful. In addition to bringing new solar-powered technology to the area, this engineer has improved people’s ability to access their most valuable information resource—their cell phones.

Mobile Healthcare in Cameroon

Gifted Mom is an mhealth (mobile healthcare) platform founded by Cameroon engineer Alain Nteff. The platform uses basic text messaging to provide expectant mothers with important information throughout their pregnancies—everything from prenatal care to vaccinations. Women are also able to connect directly with physicians, who can answer questions and give expedited medical advice.

But none of this is possible without electricity, and that’s something Cameroon and many other impoverished countries still struggle with.

There are an estimated 600 million people living in sub-Sahara Africa with little to no access to reliable electricity. Even in urban areas, like Limbe, a town close to Idenau with a hydroelectricity plant, blackouts occur on a fairly regular basis. That’s because droughts are suffocating the power plant, which has put expectant mothers again at risk.


Last year, the Canadian engineer introduced makeshift solar panels and wind turbines to the area; residents can bring motorcycle batteries to charge, then bring them back home to light their houses and charge their cell phones.

Thanks to the new energy source, these beautiful coastal villages have become safer places to live, as well as to travel, which allows businesses owners to do business, and healthcare providers to administer care.

Gifted Mom’s founder hopes that by 2020, the mortality rate in this area will decrease by 70 percent: a milestone it’s sure to celebrate.