It is estimated that in resource-poor areas of the world, 3.3 million neonatal deaths occur within the first four weeks of life every year. According to the Lancet Child Survival Series, 13% of deaths of children under the age of five could be prevented by breastfeeding alone. Availability of breast milk to vulnerable infants can be increased significantly by establishing human milk banks. However, providing safe breast milk to infants in developing regions continues to be a challenge. Commercial-grade pasteurizers are too expensive and beyond the reach of most organizations. Affordable, low-tech pasteurization methods lack the appropriate quality control mechanisms, which prevents implementation at a large-scale.

In this project we have leveraged mobile and sensing technologies to create an alternate system to safely pasteurize human breast milk. The system, called FoneAstra, enables low-level sensors like temperature probes, to be connected to mobile phones. It ensures that milk is pasteurized correctly by providing appropriate audiovisual feedback to guide users performing the procedure. At the end of the procedure, users are able to print a pasteurization report and labels for pasteurized milk bottles using a Bluetooth-enabled printer. The system automatically uploads temperature curves of procedures to a server, which enables supervisors to remotely monitor facilities where procedures are performed.

The first trial of the system started in Durban, South Africa, in May 2012. We have deployed it at two locations. First, it is being used to perform routine pasteurizations at a milk bank located in the neonate ward of a district-level hospital. Second, our in-country partners in the pediatrics department of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, are using it to validate the efficacy of the system by doing microbial activity tests on pre- and post-pasteurized milk samples. The results received so far have been encouraging – while pre-pasteurized milk samples showed microbial activity, none of the post-pasteurized samples showed any microbial activity. The system will be installed at two new milk banks in Durban in the coming months. Our in-country partners are also promoting the system with the South African Dept. of Health, who are in the process of scaling up milk banking across the country, and are looking for alternate, affordable methods to safely pasteurize human breast milk.

Publications

Rohit Chaudhri, Darivanh Vlachos, Jabili Kaza, Joy Palludan, Nathan Bilbao, Troy Martin, Gaetano Borriello, Beth Kolko, Kiersten Israel-Ballard. 2011. A system for safe flash-heat pasteurization of human breast milk. In Proceedings of the 5th ACM workshop on Networked systems for developing regions. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 9–14. PDF