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Celebrate Solutions: Using Cell Phones to Make Breast Milk Safe for Babies

By: Rati Bishnoi, Program Manager, Catapult

The following is a 90-day progress report on PATH’s “Banking breast milk for babies" project, which was fully funded on Catapult earlier this year.

PATH is an international nonprofit organization that works to transforms global health through innovation. By taking an entrepreneurial approach, PATH develops and deliver high-impact, low-cost solutions to people and communities in 70 countries.

This summer—through a fundraising campaign on Catapult.org—PATH was able to raise fund $50,000 to support a lifesaving low-cost intervention to save newborn babies using mobile phones and donated breast milk.

The nourishment from breast milk can mean the difference between life and death, especially for babies who are premature, very small, severely malnourished, born to HIV-positive mothers, or orphaned. The need for donor milk across South Africa is substantial due to the devastating impact of the HIV epidemic, and hospitals are requesting the urgent expansion of this simple, inexpensive system to support new babies. Heat pasteurization kills potential pathogens in donated milk, such as HIV and hepatitis, while retaining the milk’s nutritional and immunological benefits. It is a critical but expensive step in human milk banking.

PATH and in collaboration with its partners has created a low-tech system that allows health care providers in neonatal units to monitor the pasteurization process in real-time on their mobile phones, ensuring that the milk is heated safely and consistently every time even when commercial-grade equipment is not available.

"[Since receiving funding,] we have been making enhancements to our cell-phone based FoneAstra milk pasteurization monitoring system. This device helps to monitor pasteurization of donor breast milk in human milk banks in South Africa. Following an initial pilot, we received suggestions from staff on how to make it even better. So the team at [University of Washington] and ShiftLabs are improving the device to make it even more affordable and easier to use.

With Catapult funding, our team has supported four human milk banks already using FoneAstra to ensure the device is working correctly and the staff are properly trained. Additionally, we are improving the system in preparation to launch more human milk banks in South Africa in the coming months. This will include training staff to support all mothers - improving breastfeeding rates in the community, and increasing potential breast milk donors in the community. Training will also include safe collection and processing of breast milk.

Risks and challenges

A key risk is identifying enough donors to provide sufficient milk. To address this we are carefully designing a program to provide training to staff on how to encourage and support all mothers to exclusively breastfeed. This will build a foundation of breast milk donors. The major challenge we have faced to date, is ensuring the final design of FoneAstra is appropriate and meets our goal of low cost and simple. This has required significant time with our engineers and technical staff. We are on track and are working together to ensure a final FoneAstra system is ready for scale-up around South Africa.

Next steps

Our plan includes completing the final FoneAstra device, funding the local partner technical staff so they can train and provide assistance, and launching new human milk banks in several hospitals. To do this, our team will be meeting with doctors and government officials to advocate for human milk banking and to carefully select hospitals for the new milk banks. It is critical to choose carefully so quality control systems are in place and donor milk is a priority for newborn care.”
 

If you were inspired by this progress, you can:

Photo via PATH

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