FoneAstra: Mobile App to monitor breast-milk preservation in South Africa

FoneAstra: Mobile App to monitor breast-milk preservation in South Africa

The only thing constant these days is change. The possibility of what technology could do seems to have no boundary. The availability of mobile phones and broadband services are bringing changes and inspiring people to venture into areas which would have been unthinkable a decade ago.  This development is bringing opportunities to the African continent.  The dividends of the advancement in mobile technology is becoming visible in healthcare and  how it's managed in Africa

In South Africa, breast milk preservation chamber was developed using mobile phone app: The FoneAstra monitor, to regulate or monitor the temperature of breast milk in the chamber. This great innovation idea is from a team led by Professor Anna Coutsoudis, from the department of paediatrics and child health at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal. In partnership with global health organisation PATH and the University of Washington’s department of computer science and engineering, the team developed a simple mobile phone app that could play a game-changing role in getting life-saving donated breast milk to newborns. The FoneAstra monitor is one of this year’s winners of GSK and Save the Children’s Healthcare Innovation Award, which aims to help support and scale-up innovations coming out of developing countries that reduce child deaths.

Professor Anna Coutsoudis

Premature and low birth weight babies desperately need breast milk to help their underdeveloped digestive systems grow, and risk infection and death without it. HIV infection among mothers, high maternal mortality rates and large numbers of babies being abandoned mean that many go without.

Donated breast milk needs to be pasteurised, and with a price tag of $18,000-$20,000, commercial pasteurisers are simply too expensive for poorer countries. But for just $700, FoneAstra accurately monitors when the milk reaches the correct temperature via a probe, which then sends text messages to a mobile phone and prints labels confirming the results via Bluetooth.

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Coutsoudis’s team now plans to scale-up provision, setting up “family health posts” that provide donated breast milk, promotes breastfeeding and teaches parenting skills. About 100 mothers at each post will be trained as breastfeeding counsellors who will then go on to train more women. “If you train-up a mum to be a counsellor it gives her more empowerment,” Coutsoudis says. “We really need breast milk for our babies. It makes a huge difference, and having community milk banks around the country is something we’ve always dreamed of. We’re so excited about it.”