Up to a quarter of premature or low birth weight babies cannot get enough breast milk from their mothers, often for reasons of illness or low supply. This leaves them vulnerable to life threatening conditions such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and neonatal sepsis.
In South Africa — where I live — there are nearly 1 million births each year with a low birth weight rate of 13 per cent. That equates to nearly 105,000 low birth weight babies, of which about a quarter will require donor milk at some point during their care. Additionally some of these infants may be abandoned or orphaned and should continue receiving donor milk when they are discharged into community care.
So how can we help these babies get the breast milk they so desperately need? Human breast milk is far superior to formula for these tiny and vulnerable infants.
At the University of Kwazulu-Natal, we are using a mobile phone app called FoneAstra which allows for the safe pasteurization of donated breast milk. This FoneAstra pasteurization system was developed by our partners Rohit Chaudri, from University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and PATH.
Anna Coutsoudis is a public health scientist and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics & Child Health at the University KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. She has done extensive research on HIV and nutrition, and especially in breastfeeding. She established the first community based breastmilk bank in South Africa specifically to provide donor breastmilk to AIDS orphans. She is now collaborating with the Department of Health and PATH to scale up of human milk banking in South Africa in neonatal intensive care units as well as in rural community based human milk banks through the GSK/Save the Children Health Innovation Award.
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