It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for a 20-percent decrease in infant-and-maternal mortality between 2005 and 2010 across the developing world, plus about another 20-percent decrease since then, according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
Certainly in the mix are improved health technology and education, an explosion of project funding from the Gates Foundation, among others, and a quintupling in the number of organizations focussed on solutions. Yet during the past two years, one of the best ways to attack numbers Four and Five of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals has come through the growing use of solar power as a replacement for poisonous kerosene lamps and solid fuels, and to provide electric light where it’s been unavailable or unreliable.
During the past few years mainstream media have clutched solar’s economic benefits to its breasts, calling it an obvious low-hanging piece of fruit for improving life in the developing world. There are now hundreds of solar producers, distributors and standards, but the results all share a common bond: an incredible boost in health for the world’s poorest people.
Many studies now show that one of the biggest reasons in the decrease in infant-and-maternal mortality comes from cleaner air in individual households, thus lowering the incidence of lower respiratory infections. The IHME estimates that in 2010 alone, 3.5-million people died from indoor air pollution, including diseases like influenza, haemophilus influenzae type B, pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus that are responsible for about 50 percent of all deaths of children under five years.
Inexpensive solar lamps can virtually eliminate the prevalence of these diseases. yet their health value extends even further. Lack of electricity in areas of rural poverty means that doctors are unable to provide care due to inadequate lighting. They can’t use many sophisticated medical instruments or store blood and vaccines safely. And they can’t communicate with other medical professionals, using platforms like iheed’s educational animation. This means care is sparse at best.
Solar lights are cheaper in the medium-to-long term than kerosene and solid fuels; they provide immeasurable health and economic benefits to the world’s 1.5 billion people without electricity. These are today’s messages of governments, media and private industry, from producer/distributor Nokero to Firdaus Kharas’ Solar Campaign.
Solar could well be the most-direct way to achieve many of the MDG’s that are still, unfortunately, a bit our of the world’s grasp.