As I entered the antechamber of the neonatal intensive care unit at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I was engulfed by the smell of heated milk and enfolded in a blanket of warmth. The tiniest babies I’d ever seen lay in light box incubators just beyond the glass door. Illuminated by the heating lamps that kept them alive, tiny newborns looked like glowworms swathed in cotton cocoons, brand new eyes blinked at the warm lights. A sign on the wall from 2010 read “This department has been furnished by the Republic of Turkey.” Fragile lives being kept alive in a fragile system.
In 2013 this very hospital, the largest, and most advance public hospital in the capital city of Ethiopia, was left without power for seven hours. Blackouts in the city are frequent due to lack of reliable power. Time and again as I’ve learned and written about global health and development the common thread of energy poverty has woven its way through the narratives. Lack of access to electricity limits the reach of advances in global health, potential economic development, and constrains the lives of people, trapping millions in extreme poverty.
As I learned on my trip to Ethiopia last year to report on newborn health, many women there still birth at home. Most homes in rural areas are without electricity. Giving birth at home, often without a skilled health worker is dangerous enough. Giving birth at home during the night without power to light the way, is plain treacherous. In too many cases, light is life.
Through my advocacy for global vaccines I became aware that one of the biggest challenges in getting vaccines to those who need them most is the cold chain storage along the way necessary for the vaccines to remain effective. In clinics where power outages are frequent and refrigerators where the vaccines are kept lose power on a regular basis, life saving vaccines go to waste.
Several years ago one of my fellow contributors at World Moms Blog , Alison Fraser, launched a non-profit called Mom2MomAfrica to help furnish school supplies to students in Tanzania. She came to realize that the students she worked with did not have electricity to be able to do school work at home, and needed to add a lighting solution to the plan to ensure real academic progress.
The factors that lead to extreme poverty are so layered and complex, but one thing is clear. Without energy true progress can not be made.
The facts about energy poverty on the African continent are startling .
- 7 out of 10 people living in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to electricity.
- 30% of health centers and over a third of primary schools in Africa have to function with no electricity at all.
- 8 out of 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa heart their homes and cook food using open fires. Inhalation of the smoke and fumes produced from burning traditional fuels results in over four million deaths per year, mainly among women and children. That is more deaths than from malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.
Congress has the opportunity right now to pass a bill that would help bring electricity to 50 million people in Africa for the very first time, at no cost to US tax payers. You can help. You can sign the Electrify Africa Act Petition and let your members of congress know that you care.
This post was written as part of the One.org #LightForLight campaign where all this month photobloggers will be sharing their favorite light filled images and encouraging readers to sign the Electrify Africa Act Petition.
Coming up tomorrow, our friends at Our Collective are posting a photo essay! Be sure to check it out!
I traveled to Ethiopia last June on a Fellowship with the International Reporting Project to report on Newborn Health.