University of KwaZulu-Natal Wins Share of Global US$1 million Healthcare Innovation Award

Ground-breaking ‘FoneAstra’ system gives premature babies access to safe donated breast milk
 Mobile phone app supports banking of breast milk in poor and remote rural areas to cut infant mortality
A team from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has been awarded US$370,000 for a low-cost toolkit that supports the provision of donor breast milk through human milk banks (HMBs) and breastfeeding support centres using a simple mobile-phone app. The ‘FoneAstra’ human milk pasteurisation toolkit, originally developed by UKZN, health NGO PATH and the University of Washington, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, is one of four African initiatives to have won a share of the second GSK and Save the Children Healthcare Innovation Award. The initiative was highlighted during a roundtable discussion with stakeholders and policy makers convened by GSK and Save the Children today to discuss the impact of the Award on health innovation trends in South Africa.
Up to 25 per cent of premature or low birth-weight babies cannot get sufficient breast milk from their mothers, often for reasons of illness or low supply, which leaves them more vulnerable to life threatening conditions such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and neonatal sepsis.
Professor Anna Coutsoudis, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, UKZN, said: “Breastfeeding is one of the key strategies in South Africa for reducing infant mortality. Donated breast milk is a lifeline for premature babies whose mothers aren’t able to give them the nutrition they need. The FoneAstra system makes it much easier to provide safe donated milk and set up small-scale human milk banks in poorer settings as part of a comprehensive breast-feeding promotion campaign.”
The FoneAstra system uses a mobile phone app that connects a cell phone to a probe that monitors the temperature of the donated breast milk. It provides a step-by-step guide through the pasteurisation process and makes it easier to track and trace donor milk for increased quality control and assurance. It can be adapted for use in settings with no electricity.
Ramil Burden, Vice President, Africa and Developing Countries, said: “The simplicity, low cost and intuitive nature of this innovation is a great example of a sustainable intervention that addresses neonatal health issues. Linking this to government priorities and engaging the community also helps promotes education and good practice.”
Gugulethu Ndebele, Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children, South Africa, said: “In order to bring life-saving healthcare to the hardest to reach children, there is a need for ambitious new ideas and collaboration. So it is fantastic that the Healthcare Innovation Award has recognised an innovation that is using a low-cost system to enable the safe storage of breast milk, which will help to save children’s lives. Through the recognition and funding from this Award this initiative can help make a bigger impact for some of the most vulnerable children.”
Currently used in four milk banks at district-level hospitals in South Africa, the team from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at UKZN, is also, in collaboration with the Department of Health, rolling out the FoneAstra system to an additional five district hospitals across the KwaZulu-Natal Province. The team aims to set up a network of human milk banks across the country, which will act as local focal points for breast-feeding promotion and support beyond the district hospital level, reaching the needs of newborns and vulnerable infants in the community. The model has already been requested by Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon and India.
The Healthcare Innovation Award is a key initiative delivered as part of an ambitious partnership between GSK and Save the Children, which aims to deliver a new model for corporate-charity working to help save the lives of one million of the world’s most vulnerable children.

RELATED POSTS