Social entrepreneurs Laura Stachel and Hal Aronson: helping to save lives in developing countries with their solar suitcase invention. A former obstetrician, she has a Cal M.P.H. and is pursuing a doctorate; he’s a Cal grad with a UCSC Ph.D.

We last reported on doctoral candidate Laura Stachel in 2010, when she won the Graduate Student Award for Civic Engagement at the Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service ceremony in 2010 and also became a Bay Area winner of the Jefferson Award for public service.

The news website Berkeleyside has caught us up on what’s been happening since.  It tells us that

…the city of Berkeley took time to honor two of its citizens. Laura Stachel and her husband Hal Aronson were issued with a proclamation and words of praise from Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Linda Maio, among others, at the April 3 meeting of the City Council. The following night, PBS Newshour ran an eight-minute segment on the couple’s work (watch it below). Six months ago, Diane Sawyer introduced Stachel as“Person of the Week” on ABC World News Tonight. Also in October, the pair appeared on CBS after winning the Nokia Tech Awards as part of the San Jose Tech Museum Tech Awards.

Such plaudits have come to the couple, who live with their kids near College Avenue in south Berkeley, because they are literally helping to save people’s lives on a regular basis, and are doing so through a combination of smarts and sheer determination.

Stachel and Aronson’s brainchild was to create a portable “solar suitcase” which is able to provide light to hospitals that face chronic power shortages — a situation many healthcare clinics in developing countries face on a daily basis. Having the lights go off during surgery can mean the difference between life and death. The situation can also be critical if you have to wait for daylight to break in order to begin an urgent operation.

Stachel, who practiced as an obstetrician before a back injury led her to change course and pursue a doctorate of public health at UC Berkeley, saw this first-hand when she traveled to Nigeria in 2008. She quickly realized that helping the hospital get reliable power would be as valuable to the doctors there as her medical advice.

“My clinical skills were useless without there being basic infrastructure,” she says.

Stachel admits she was not aware of the scale of the problem globally until she began visiting hospitals in developing countries. She estimates that 300,000 health facilities do not have reliable electricity around the world. “There’s a 100-fold higher risk of dying in childbirth in developing countries than here,” she says.

Read the rest of Tracey Taylor’s story on Berkeleyside