More than a thermometer

A device that looks a bit like a thermometer, Kulinda indicates when breast milk from HIV-infected mothers is safe for drinking. Photo by: Emily Riggs

A simple, low-cost way to inactivate the human immunodeficiency virus in breast milk is through flash-heating. But how does one know if the heated milk is safe and ready for consumption?

Emily Riggs, a product design graduate from Brunel University in London, has developed Kulinda, a device that that looks a bit like a thermometer and indicates when breast milk from HIV-infected mothers is safe for drinking. Kulinda means “protect” in Swahili.

The United States and other donors have made preventing mother-to-child transmissions a focus in their work toward an AIDS-free generation. That can be done during pregnancy (through anti-virals) or delivery (caesarean section) or thereafter (avoiding breast milk). Products like a nipple shield that disinfects milk during breast-feeding using anti-retroviral drugs are still in development.

In an interview, Riggs told Devex: “I decided to develop a device that did not require any drugs so that people without easy access to a pharmacy or without funds for ARVs could still safely provide their children with breastmilk.”

Riggs is raising funds to field-test the device in Africa, where the burden of HIV weighs heavily on women. Close to 90 percent of all women living with the virus reside in the 22 countries designated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a priority under his plan to eliminate new HIV infections in children by 2015, according to data from UNICEF; all of these countries, except for India, are located in sub-Saharan Africa.

Under Riggs’ plan, Kulinda would be distributed among small communities of women who would be trained to use and maintain the device and share their knowledge with others. One gadget would cost roughly 20 pence ($0.34) to make, Riggs estimates; with a container, bag and instruction manual, that cost is higher but still below $1. And with adequate donor funding, it would be free for the women in need.

“My ideal route to market would be through funding from a charity or an investor to enable distribution to mothers without them having to pay,” Riggs says.

Riggs recently joined an international student design competition, where her product was among the finalists. Her next destination: the 4th International Conference on Universal Design this October in Japan, where she will have a chance to showcase her invention again.

Read our last #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.