Banking breast milk for babies

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90 Day Report

Using a cell phone-enabled system to make donor breast milk safe for vulnerable babies

posted Nov 25, 2013 by Rati Bishnoi


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 UW CSE 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.

Up Close

In a hospital with a new milk bank, we spoke with the doctor in charge of caring for vulnerable infants, who said that they had wanted to feed breast milk to babies that didn’t have access to their mother’s milk, because they knew it would lead to healthier outcomes. But before FoneAstra, they had no way to provide it. With FoneAstra, they set up a milk bank and could provide safe donor milk. This doctor was so thankful for a simple system. She emphasized that every hospital should have one!

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.


PATH expense data indicates the project is on track to meet objectives within the award period

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  • Orphans
  • Technology

A lifesaving low-cost intervention to save newborn babies using mobile phones and donated breast milk.

Why we care: The need for donor milk across South Africa is substantial due to the devastating impact of the HIV epidemic

How we're solving this: Answering the call of hospitals to establish milk banks and mobile phone-based monitoring

Each year, more than 3.3 million newborns die within their first month of life. PATH is working to change that by enhancing a lifesaving intervention for vulnerable infants: donated breast milk. We’ve developed a unique, low-cost system that uses mobile phones to manage safe pasteurization of breast milk. Your donation can help ensure that infants in South Africa get the safe breast milk they need to thrive.

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. Commercial-grade pasteurizers can cost up to $60,000, preventing many hospitals from establishing a milk bank. 
PATH and our partners 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. In collaboration with the University of Washington and the Human Milk Banking Association of South Africa, this system has been established in four neonatal intensive care units over the last year. The easy-to-use system has significantly improved health workers’ ability to monitor pasteurization temperatures and provide safe donor milk to the vulnerable infants in their ward. 
Your gift will go to scaling up low-tech milk banks and phone-based monitoring at additional public hospitals in resource-limited regions of South Africa. It will also enable us to train staff on human milk banking procedures, ensuring they can provide safe milk to babies who need it.  
Globally, as many as 10 to 15 percent of vulnerable infants are in need of donated breast milk—they are unable to suckle or their mothers are ill or have died. Human milk banks are a crucial resource for saving these young lives. Experts in product development, nutrition, and neonatal health are working together to expand the availability of safe, simplified, and low-cost human milk banking systems and reach vulnerable infants. Join us in improving the health and survival of South Africa’s babies. 
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