ColaLife Zambia wins $370,000 healthcare innovation award

ColaLife Zambia
ColaLife Zambia

A simple mobile-phone app that helps staff at human milk banks (HMBs) with the pasteurisation of donor breast milk and a life-saving kit for the treatment of diarrhoea in under-fives have been awarded joint first prize in the annual GSK and Save the Children $1 million Healthcare Innovation Award. The University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) and ColaLife Zambia were each awarded $370,000 for their innovative approaches to helping reduce deaths among newborns and infants.

The ‘FoneAstra’ human milk pasteurisation toolkit, originally developed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in collaboration with health NGO PATH and the University of Washington, uses a mobile phone 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 per cent of premature or low birth-weight babies cannot get sufficient breast milk from their mothers, often for reasons of illness or low supply, which leaves them more vulnerable to life threatening conditions such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and neonatal sepsis.

Currently used in four milk banks at district-level hospitals in South Africa, the team from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at UKZN, is also, in collaboration with the Department of Health, rolling out the FoneAstra system to an additional five district hospitals across the KwaZulu-Natal Province. The team aims to set up a network of human milk banks 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.

Professor Anna Coutsoudis, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, UKZN, says, “Breastfeeding is one of the key strategies in South Africa for reducing infant mortality. Donated breast milk is a lifeline for premature babies whose mothers aren’t able to give them the nutrition they need. The FoneAstra system makes it much easier to provide safe donated milk and set up small-scale human milk banks in poorer settings as part of a comprehensive breast-feeding promotion campaign.”

Joint first prize winner, ColaLife Zambia, won its award for its innovative ‘Kit Yamoyo’ (‘Kit of Life’), which brings affordable diarrhoea treatment to families in remote rural areas using the supply and distribution networks normally used to transport soft drinks. Diarrhoea is one of the world’s biggest killers of children under five. It can be simply treated using oral rehydration salts (ORS) and Zinc, yet less than one per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa receive the treatment. In Zambia, ColaLife found that many parents were unaware of the correct treatment for diarrhoea and that suitable treatment options were not widely available.

ColaLife worked with mothers to design the specially 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 through rural health centres by community health workers and delivered by trained local village-based micro-retailers. Retailers travel to the nearest district town to buy the kits the same way they do for other fast moving consumer goods such as Coca-Cola, cooking oil, salt and sugar. At the end of a 12-month trial in Zambia, 45 per cent of children with diarrhoea received the correct treatment for diarrhoea. 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.

Simon Berry, founder of ColaLife and project manager of the Kit Yamoyo trial, says: “We wanted our diarrhoea treatment kits to be as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola in remote village kiosks so we use existing private sector distribution networks to achieve this goal. The secret is that everyone in the value chain – manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler and retailer makes a profit. That way, it’s a fully sustainable supply network and parents get the medicines they need for their children, closer to their home and at prices most can afford.”

Ramil Burden, Vice President Africa and Developing Countries, GSK, said: “Innovation in healthcare is at the heart of GSK’s partnership with Save the Children. We want to recognise excellent initiatives such as these, which are making a huge difference to the communities they operate in, often through simple changes and low-cost technologies. The Award will help them replicate and scale up their projects to ensure more young lives can be saved.”

Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, Director of Programme, Policy and Quality, Save the Children, said: “The best solutions for complex problems are often created by people affected by or closest to the problem. Unfortunately many of these solutions very rarely get to scale. So it is fantastic that the Healthcare Innovation Award has recognised pioneering healthcare solutions that have implemented to help save children’s lives. Through the recognition and funding from this Award these winning innovations can be replicated to help make a bigger impact for the world’s most vulnerable children.”

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, selected by a judging panel of experts from the fields of public health and development.

Two other organisations awarded grants from the $1 million fund were University of Nairobi, Kenya awarded $120,000 for an innovation designed to tackle child deaths using a bar-coded Vaccination/Mother-Child Wellness Card that tracks vaccinations and rewards mothers with discounts on farm products. Child immunisation is seen as a critical measure to reduce death rates in children under five which currently stand at 71 per 1,000 live births in Kenya.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 fertiliser, from Agrovets shops run by the University’s partner agency.

Living Goods, Uganda 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. Skilled micro-entrepreneurs known as Community Health Promoters, who work closely with local health authorities, operate as franchisees. 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.

The Healthcare Innovation Award is a key initiative delivered as part of an ambitious partnership between GSK and Save the Children, which aims to deliver a new model for corporate-charity working to help save the lives of one million of the world’s most vulnerable children.


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