How Does Solar Power Save Lives? Bringing together digital health care and solar energy in Zanzibar

“I once found myself in the situation that I had to pick up an expectant mother at night. I took my Little Sun Charge with me, because I never leave it behind. Along the way it so happened that the woman could not wait any longer and we had to prepare for her birth in the car. Our roads are terrible and the vehicle was small. But the solar light helped us a lot. It lit up the birth and I could help in the delivery – all went well.”

– Amina Rashid Bakari, Community Health Volunteer in Zanzibar.

Access to energy is key to human existence. It affects social life, work, education, but also health. According to the World Health Organization, there is one doctor for every 20,000 patients in Tanzania. The recommended ratio is one to 300. In most parts of the country there is no doctor, no nurse, no clinic and the nearest hospital may be hundreds of kilometers away. At the same time, only 7% of the rural population has access to the electrical grid. If we look at the example of a pregnant woman, this means she cannot easily access a health facility for supervision and care nor can she call help when going into labor – unless she pays a neighbor with electricity to charge her phone (if she has one).

In 2016, Little Sun started to work with an organization providing health care to those affected by the missing infrastructure. D-tree International works with people from these communities, so-called Community Health Volunteers, and trains and equips them with a smartphone. We provided Little Sun Charges to those Health Volunteers who are not connected to the grid.

In November of this year, we went to Zanzibar to see the success of the program and to find out how we can increase our support.

What did we learn?

  • 40% of Community Health Volunteers do not have electricity in their homes
  • Little Sun Charges not only help the Health Volunteers in their work with clients, but also help their own families – the chargers help their children study at night thanks to the integrated light
  • D-tree is expanding their program in order to support all 1.5 million Zanzibaris with better health care

What do we conclude from this? We need to equip all Community Health Volunteers with a Little Sun Charge in order to make sure they can do their work of assisting pregnant women and others in need throughout Zanzibar. And we need your support for that!

About the program

In rural areas of Zanzibar, much like in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, lacking electricity makes healthcare more complicated. Almost half of Zanzibari women deliver their children at home due to lack of money for transport, traditional practices, and/or lack of planning. Community Health Volunteers have therefore been deployed to help pregnant women overcome these barriers and provide advice around key health topics.

Using a mobile health app, over 400 Community Health Volunteers can help pregnant women better plan for facility deliveries as well as pre and post-delivery care. As many of the Volunteers lack electricity in their homes, Little Sun has equipped over half of them with portable solar-powered phone chargers. The chargers provide the reliable energy needed to power their most important tool: the smartphone.

“The Community Health Volunteers are very happy about the Little Sun Chargers, because they not only help Volunteers in their work with clients, but also help their own families. Many homes don’t have electricity, so the charger also powers the phones of other family members and neighbors. With the Little Sun Chargers, they are now always connected to everyone – for both personal calls and emergencies,” says Jalia Tibaijuka, a professional midwife by training and Project Coordinator for D-tree in Zanzibar.


Photo credits: Abdul Jafary & Little Sun