In 2013, GSK and Save the Children launched the first Healthcare Innovation Award to identify and reward innovations that have proven successful in reducing child deaths in developing countries. In 2014, four initiatives from across Africa won their share of the global US$1 million Award, according to the GSK press release.
ColaLife Zambia and UKZN’s FoneAstra toolkit were two of four African initiatives, chosen from a list of over 100 applications from countries across the developing world. The University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) and ColaLife Zambia was awarded joint first prize and received $370,000 for their innovations.
The ‘FoneAstra’ human milk pasteurisation toolkit, originally developed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in collaboration with PATH and the University of Washington, uses an app to provide a step-by-step guide through the pasteurisation process. The app makes it easier to track and trace donor milk for increased quality control and assurance and can be adapted for use in settings with no electricity. Up to 25% of premature or low birth-weight babies cannot get sufficient breast milk from their mothers, which leaves them more vulnerable to life threatening conditions such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and neonatal sepsis.
The FoneAstra system is currently used in four milk banks at district-level hospitals in South Africa, and will soon be rolling out to an additional five district hospitals across KwaZulu-Natal. The team aims to set up a network of HMB’s across the country, which will act as local focal points for breast-feeding promotion and support beyond the district hospital level, reaching the needs of newborns and vulnerable infants in the community.
Joint first prize- winner, ColaLife Zambia, won its award for its innovative Kit Yamoyo, meaning Kit of Life, which brings affordable diarrhoea treatment to families in remote rural areas. Diarrhoea is one of the world’s biggest killers of children under five. It can be easily treated using oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc, yet less than 1% of children in sub-Saharan Africa receive the treatment.
ColaLife worked with mothers to design the tailored, low-cost treatment kit. Each kit contains 200ml sachets of ORS, 10 zinc tablets and soap, all packaged in a container that serves as a measure for the correct amount of water, a mixing and storage device, and cup for administering the ORS. It is promoted by community health workers and delivered by trained local village-based micro-retailers. At the end of a 12-month trial in Zambia, 45% of children with diarrhoea received the correct treatment. A Lives Saved Tool (LiST) estimate suggests that one life is saved for every 330 kits sold. To date, 50,000 kits have been distributed.
Two other organisations awarded grants from the $1 million fund were the University of Nairobo Kenya and Living Goods Uganda. The University of Nairobi, Kenya was awarded $120,000 for its bar-coded Vaccination/Mother-Child Wellness Card that tracks vaccinations and rewards mothers with discounts on farm products. The vaccination card automatically updates when a newborn is registered and each time the child and/or mother receives a vaccine. It then allows the mother discounts on farm products, such as seeds and fertilizer, from Agrovets shops run by the University’s partner agency.
Living Goods, Uganda, was also awarded $120,000 to support the expansion of its innovative approach to tackling child deaths in remote areas by bringing life-saving health services directly to people’s doorsteps. The health promoters travel door-to-door teaching families how to improve their health, and diagnosing and treating patients. They also sell health products such as bed nets, de-worming pills, anti-malaria and diarrhoea treatments, fortified foods, and water filters.
These innovations are reminders of the dramatic impact simple innovations can have in helping to save children’s lives. They also show the innovative spirit of the African people, coming up with simple solutions to address real African healthcare problems.