News Column

Experts Call for Breast Milk Banks

August 10, 2014

Masembe Tambwe

WHILST the country is striving to use all possible means of reducing child mortality rates, reproductive health experts say the establishment of human milk banks could supplement efforts.

Speaking exclusively to the 'Daily News on Saturday', nutrition researcher, Ms Mary Kibona said that she firmly believes that the existence of human milk banks can make a tremendous difference in child mortality as long as certain foundations are in place.

"Before we as a nation can even start contemplating about having these facilities, we have to ensure that all milk donated is carefully scrutinised for the HIV virus among others, sanitation is top notch and power supply is guaranteed," she said.

A human milk bank is a service which collects, screens, processes, and dispenses by prescription human milk donated by nursing mothers who are not biologically related to the recipient infant. The International Milk Banking Initiative (IMBI) was founded at the International HMBANA Congress in 2005.

It lists 33 countries with milk bank programmes. Currently Brazil has an extensive network of 210 milk banks, in Europe there are 203 active human milk banks, with 13 more planned as of 2014, according to the European Milk Bank Association, 16 in North America and in Africa, only South Africa reportedly has the facilities.

Ms Kibona said that had these factors been in place and the public was well sensitised, she has no doubt that the banks would contribute to reduced child deaths and even prompt decision makers to put in place a policy highlighting them.

According to available statistics, in Tanzania 13,000 women die each year from pregnancy related causes and another 157,000 children die before their first birthday out of whom 45,000 babies die before they are one month.

"Before the HIV/AIDS era, whenever a mother dies during pregnancy, the child would be given to another mother to be breastfed. Today, the first measure is to introduce the child to infant formulae Number One.

In the rural setting, the hospital administration has the onus to decide," she explained.

Ms Kibona said that contrary to many people's beliefs, there is such a thing as having excessive breast milk and it is known even among women in the country to squeeze their milk and store them provided that at room temperature its eight hours, 24 hours in the fridge and 72 hours in a deep freezer.

The International Reproductive and Child Health Clinic Director, Dr Ali Mzige told 'Daily News' on Saturday that he doesn't feel it is ideal sharing mother's milk with another person not biologically connected.

Dr Mzige said that this could have been the norm in yesteryear during the times of Prophets but everything had changed when HIV/AIDS started knocking on the doors of people.

"The trend and the norm now is human milk is for her child only that she has given birth to even if the mother is HIV infected and she will breastfeed immediately after delivery to establish mother/baby bonding for the next six months without drinking water since her milk is 80 per cent water," he explained.

Building a case against the nation's capability of having its first human milk bank, he said that in a setting where lactating mothers are more malnourished and underfed than most; the possibility of getting extra milk is rather slim.

Apart from the excess milk from the mothers, Dr Mzige said that the country doesn't have the ideal infrastructure to transport or process the milk.

"Before we start pondering about human milk banks, let's ask ourselves how many mothers today breastfed their children between six months to two years as recommended?

At the moment just getting people to donate blood that is vital for the survival delivering mothers is a hassle, I think milk banks is way over heads for now," he lamented.

It is the reproductive health expert's conviction that breast milk bank will not be of assistance in the fight against child death rates if mothers themselves are not stressed on the fundamentals of breastfeeding their children and the husbands realizing that for mothers to lactate effectively, they need peace of mind, loving care and a balanced diet.

The charity Save the Children says breast milk, which it describes as super food for newborns, is the most effective solution, particularly when a baby is breastfed immediately after birth and exclusively for the first six months. The World Health Organisation and UNICEF agree - with both endorsing this advice.

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Source: AllAfrica

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