Accelerating innovations to improve vaccine access and infant health

November 21, 2013 by PATH

PATH receives two Grand Challenges Explorations grants to advance a new class of cold chain equipment and simplify human milk banking systems

PATH will receive two US$1 million grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations initiative to advance a new category of cold chain equipment and expand access to donated breast milk by simplifying human milk banking.

The two-year, follow-on grants recognize successful projects with additional funding, allowing PATH and our collaborators to build on work already under way. The grants were announced November 20 by the Gates Foundation.

Getting vaccines to those who need them

The first grant will support our work with equipment manufacturers to design novel approaches that catalyze the introduction of low-cost, durable, freeze-safe cold chain solutions into country immunization programs.

Most vaccines must be stored and transported from the vaccine manufacturer to the vaccine beneficiary in a cold chain that maintains a narrow temperature range of 2°C to 8°C. Accidental exposure to heat and freezing temperatures can irreversibly reduce vaccine potency, resulting in unprotected vaccine recipients or wastage when spoiled vaccines are discarded.

Protecting vaccines with cold chain solutions

PATH aims to advance "fail-safe" innovations in cold boxes and vaccine carriers that allow vaccines to remain cold for longer periods of time without damaging freeze-sensitive vaccines. PATH will work with manufacturing partners to overcome technical hurdles through design optimization, laboratory testing, and field evaluations in country immunization supply chains.

In addition, PATH will engage with key stakeholders and country decision-makers to raise awareness of the need to prevent vaccine freezing and assess demand for cold chain equipment that meets this need.

Protecting vulnerable infants

The second grant will help us scale up a novel milk pasteurization monitor as part of a low-cost quality-control system to support the integration of human milk banking with a comprehensive breastfeeding awareness initiative to improve neonatal health.

Donated breast milk safely pasteurized and stored at human milk banks can provide lifesaving nutrition for infants whose mothers' milk is unavailable, especially for infants who are premature or otherwise vulnerable.

Working with collaborators at the University of Washington and the Human Milk Bank Association of South Africa, we piloted an easy-to-use, mobile phone-based system called FoneAstra that gives users simple audio and visual instructions for safe pasteurization.

A new model to advance human milk banking

We will continue to assess and validate FoneAstra while working to commercialize the technology to ensure its sustainability. We also aim to scale up human milk banks in South Africa by integrating the FoneAstra quality-control system with a new initiative called the Mother- and Baby-Friendly Initiative Plus.

The initiative is anchored around human milk banks and designed to support exclusive breastfeeding in communities and hospitals while raising awareness of the value of breast milk for all infants.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 800 people in 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year, with successful projects having the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.

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