Milk Banking in South Africa
Professor Anna Coutsoudis, academic and researcher in the Department of Paediatrics & Child Health, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) won the GLaxoSmithKline/Save the Children’s Health Innovation Award for her ground-breaking work in Human Milk Banking in South Africa and for developing a low-cost, effective pasteurisation system for breastmilk. Up until now the prohibitive cost of commercial pasteurisers made roll -out of human milk banks to small rural hospitals and community organizations almost impossible. The Health Innovation Award enabled a significant scale up of milk banks working together with a non-profit organisation, iThemba Lethu Breastmilk Bank. Ithemba Lethu was the first community-based human milk bank in South Africa and was started by Prof Coutsoudis in 2001.
Shortly after winning the award the team realised that the original FoneAstra pasteurization system developed by their collaborators (University of Washington (Seattle), PATH and HMBASA) would be more appropriate for community settings without a cell phone. Prof Coutsoudis called upon UKZN alumni, Philip Barlow and Noel Powell to brainstorm and come up with some alternatives. Philip Barlow suggested using Raspberry Pi (off-the-shelf readily available technology) with an easy to use touch screen. The resulting innovation is now called PiAstra. The ‘funky’ concept, design and manufacture was made possible by using local expertise and industries who took up the challenge.
The fourth member of the team is Penny Reimers, a professional midwife and international board certified lactation consultant who provides support to the Human Milk Banks using PiAstra in terms of promoting breastfeeding.