Press Release: Four Initiatives From Across Africa Win Share of Global $1 Million Healthcare Innovation Award

Friday, January 30, 2015

Organisations from South Africa, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda recognised by GSK and Save the Children for innovations proven to help reduce deaths in under-fives.

A simple mobile-phone app that helps staff at human milk banks (HMBs) with the pasteurisation of donor breast milk and a life-saving kit for the treatment of diarrhoea in under-fives have been awarded joint first prize in the annual GSK and Save the Children $1 million Healthcare Innovation Award. The University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) and ColaLife Zambia were each awarded $370,000 for their innovative approaches to helping reduce deaths among newborns and infants.

The ‘FoneAstra’ human milk pasteurisation toolkit, originally developed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in collaboration with health NGO PATH and the University of Washington, uses a mobile phone app to provide a step-by-step guide through the pasteurisation process. The app makes it easier to track and trace donor milk for increased quality control and assurance and can be adapted for use in settings with no electricity. 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.

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.

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.”

Joint first prize winner, ColaLife Zambia, won its award for its innovative ‘Kit Yamoyo’ (‘Kit of Life’), which brings affordable diarrhoea treatment to families in remote rural areas using the supply and distribution networks normally used to transport soft drinks. Diarrhoea is one of the world’s biggest killers of children under five. It can be simply treated using oral rehydration salts (ORS) and Zinc, yet less than one per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa receive the treatment. In Zambia, ColaLife found that many parents were unaware of the correct treatment for diarrhoea and that suitable treatment options were not widely available.

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