The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends donated human milk (DHM) as a lifesaving alternative for children with no access to their mother’s own milk. Donated Human Milk (DHM) is an irrefutably safe and cost-effective intervention that significantly
improves health and survival over formula or other alternatives, such as animal milk, which is exactly what Pumwani Hospital intends to embark on by setting up the country’s first breast milk bank.
Plans are under way to bring the breast milk bank to Pumwani Hospital as a joint initiative between the Ministry of Health and an NGO, Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (Path).
Speaking at the hospital during the launch of the World Breastfeeding Week last week on Thursday, Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki, who was the function’s chief guest, said “Mothers should adopt the World Health Organization guidelines to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life. Breastfeeding is a baby’s first vaccine and the best source of nutrition. It is therefore a universal solution that lays the foundation for good health and survival for children.”
The WHO has recommended that countries facilitate and expand the use of donated breast milk to make it more available and accessible to babies in need. But scientific findings and WHO recommendations aside, public doubts on the suitability of donated breast milk still persist.
The concept might pick up slowly since most women find the idea of breast milk banks quite hard to accept. Most would rather depend on formula than another woman’s milk. Other concerns are about the safety of the milk from the source, with most fearing the breast milk’s ability to pass HIV to suckling infants and the fears that the handlers of the milk may take shortcuts in processing it for use by infants.
Some 39,000 babies die every year in the country due to neonatal complications. It is estimated that the breast milk bank will help prevent at least 10 per cent of the neonatal deaths when established.
According to an unpublished study carried out in Nairobi in 2016-2017 by Path and the African Population Health and Research Center (APHRC), many women view breast milk as the best food for children, but still have valid concerns about the safety of donated milk.