Dr Victoria Mubaiwa, KZN DOH, Manager of the
Maternal, Child and Women’s Health (MCWH) and
PMTCT programmes; Professor Anna Coutsoudis
and Ms Lenore Spies, Director for Nutrition at the
KZN DoH.

A team from UKZN’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health has been awarded US$370 000 (R4 million) 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 was originally developed by UKZN, health NGO PATH and the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering. UKZN is one of four African initiatives to have won a share of the second GSK and Save the Children Healthcare Innovation Award.

Professor Anna Coutsoudis of UKZN’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, 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.

Ms 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 UKZN’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health is also – in collaboration with the Department of Health – rolling out the FoneAstra system to an additional five district hospitals across KwaZulu-Natal. 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, Rwanda, Namibia and India and the team plans during the period of the award to set up Human Milk Banks with the FoneAstra technology in Ethiopia and Namibia.

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.