The South African developed FoneAstra human milk pasteurisation mHealth toolkit, along with a Zambian diarrhoea treatment toolkit, has won a joint first prize in the annual GSK and Save the Children $1 million Healthcare Innovation Award.

The FoneAstra toolkit was originally developed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in collaboration with health NGO PATH and the University of Washington in response to the demand for safe breast milk. Almost 25% of premature or low birth-weight babies are not able to get sufficient breast milk from their mothers, most often due to illness or low supply, which leaves the babies more vulnerable to life threatening conditions such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and neonatal sepsis.

The FoneAstra mHealth app provides a step-by-step guide through the pasteurisation process and also makes it easier to track and trace donor milk for increased quality control and assurance. The toolkit can also be adapted for use in settings with no electricity, which is a reality for many low-resource settings across the country and continent.

Professor at the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at UKZN, Anna Coutsoudis, 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.”

On the Healthcare Innovation Award, Vice President Africa and Developing Countries at GSK, Ramil Burden, said: “Innovation in healthcare is at the heart of GSK’s partnership with Save the Children.  We want to recognise excellent initiatives such as these, which are making a huge difference to the communities they operate in, often through simple changes and low-cost technologies. The Award will help them replicate and scale up their projects to ensure more young lives can be saved.”

Director of Programme, Policy and Quality at Save the Children, Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, added that: “The best solutions for complex problems are often created by people affected by or closest to the problem. Unfortunately many of these solutions very rarely get to scale. So it is fantastic that the Healthcare Innovation Award has recognised pioneering healthcare solutions that have implemented to help save children’s lives. Through the recognition and funding from this Award these winning innovations can be replicated to help make a bigger impact for the world’s most vulnerable children.”

FoneAstra is currently being used in four local milk banks at district-level hospitals, with plans underway between the UKZN and the DoH to roll out the toolkit to an additional five district hospitals across KZN. Their ultimate goal is to set up a network of human milk banks across the country, which will act as local community focal points for breast-feeding promotion and support beyond the district hospital level.

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