Breastmilk is an essential source of nutrition for newborns yet not all babies have access to the high-protein product due to the inability of some mothers to produce breastmilk and the demise of others during childbirth. Many Western countries have resorted to receiving breastmilk donations and keeping them for disadvantaged newborns including premature babies who need it most for nourishment and survival.
In Africa, South Africa is the only country with a standard breastmilk bank that collects breastmilk donated by nursing mothers before screening, processing and dispensing by prescription.
The South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) pioneered the human milk-banking model in South Africa since 2003 focusing especially on premature babies.
Kenya has taken the leap to open the continent’s second breastmilk bank in Nairobi to help lactating mothers get the nutritional product and also to donate for babies who have been born underweight, severely malnourished, or orphaned. The Nairobi county government launched the novel facility last week at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital.
The facility has been fitted with a pasteuriser that can hold 9.4 million litres of milk, two fridges and four freezers with a capacity of 240 litres. The milk will be heated at 60.5 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes then suddenly cooled before it is packaged and stored for use within six months, reports local media
“The milk once collected will be tested for contamination and then pasteurised to kill microorganisms, but not altering its nutritional composition. We will then store the milk in 50 millilitre bottles in the freezers to preserve it,” said Dr Mary Waiyego, the head of the breastmilk bank technical committee.
“Priority will however be given to preterm babies who have health complications, preterm babies, sick newborns and term babies who for various reasons cannot get access to their mother’s milk,” she added.
Waiyego noted that the initiative would be rolled out, if successful, to three other hospitals in the county including the Kenyatta National Hospital, Getrude’s Childrens Hospital and Mama Lucy Hospital, reports Mediamax Network.
Already, mothers have started donating their breastmilk to the bank which will be made accessible to babies for free, hinted Kenya’s health ministry.
“I acknowledge mothers who have started donating human milk to the bank, this is a great move that will help save babies especially those born prematurely and those abandoned by their mothers,” said Tessa Mattholie of the Department for International Development that partly funded the initiative.
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko said the bank will help end infant deaths as out of the average 60 infants per day, 10 to 12 infants are in need of donor breastmilk because they are born prematurely or have low birth weight.
The World Health Organization recommends Donated Human Milk (DHM) as the next best, evidence-based alternative for low birth weight babies in the absence of mother’s own milk. It has also called for the setting up of human milk banks globally to ensure the provision of safe donated human milk for babies.