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Breast milk bank thrives thanks to donations

Kampala, Uganda: A premature baby unit at a hospital in Uganda is spearheading a move to build the country's first breast milk bank.

Courtesy: APTN

A scheme to allow women to donate is underway, but they need proper equipment to keep up with the seven hundred who are born months premature and severely underweight.


It is 11am at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Nsambya Hospital, in Kampala.

Byarugaba Jones carefully cleans her breast ready for a donation session. This has been her routine for over a year now, donating vital breast milk for preterm babies at this unit. She carefully squeezes the milk manually until she has had the required amount for the intended baby.
Jones Byarugaba, Breast milk donor
Jones has donated her breast milk to over 10 babies, including baby Charity, who was abandoned by her parents. Most of the babies in this unit have either been abandoned, or their mothers have failed to produce the vital breast milk that is required for their survival.

"Charity was born with 600 grams. I came to the unit I looked at Charity, she was so tiny, she looked so, so very small and in my heart I was like: 'God how can a baby like this survive?' and then the next day I came to the unit and heard that the parents had run away, I felt so bad, infact I cried I was like why didn't these parents at least have that hope so, I told God that: 'please give me this opportunity to save this life," says Jones.
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Today, baby Charity is out of danger and under the care of the neonatal unit.

Jones believes she has been priviledged to have saved Charity's life with her breast milk.

"There are so many babies that are born prematurely they need this milk there are so many mothers who even produce well and the milk just disappears so lets just look at the lives of these children, if we gave them an opportunity to live just like charity then I think we would be very happy."

Neonatologist Victoria Nakibuuka who is also head of the Neonatal ICU says the number of preterm babies is steadily increasing and putting a strain on hospital resources.
Dr. Victoria Nakibuuka, Neonatologist and founder of Breast milk Bank
She doesn't know why the number of premature babies is increasing.

"The number of preterm babies that we are looking after is increasing. In the year 2006 we used to admit about 200 babies, but by now we admit about 700 babies in a year and about 65 percent of these are babies are the babies between 1kg to 1.5 and these are the babies that need the breast milk urgently," says Doctor Victoria Nakibuuka.

Human breast milk is vital for vulnerable, orphaned, or low birth weight infants and especially babies exposed to, or infected with HIV.

It provides powerful nutritional and immunological protection and reduces mortality from infectious diseases.
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Globally, the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding is seen as an important public health priority.

When a mother's own breast milk is not available, the World Health Organization recommends donated human breast milk as the best alternative.

Dr. Nakibuuka says they started using donated breast milk at the unit to save quadruplets whose monther was very weak.

She explains: "The first time we did it was because of a mother that was very very sick admitted in the ICU for three weeks and the baby was also sick the baby was 1.2 kilos. So we had to get donated express milk for that baby and the baby was able to survive and this baby actually survived. Another time we did it was a mother that had four babies that were born at six months and about three weeks these babies fed on breast milk and actually the babies really survived the babies are now two years. It is now a norm in our unit for the mothers to donate breast milk for the other mothers that don't have enough."

Premature birth is one the leading causes of neonatal mortality in Uganda and it is directly responsible for over 35 percent of neonatal deaths, according to Uganda's Ministry of Health.

Nakibuuka says introduction of Breast milk is vital in the survival of these babies.

"The number of babies that were dying before was high, I remember around 2007- 2008 majority of the babies that were surviving were about 30, 32 weeks or 8 weeks but now we have babies surviving from about 6 and a half months that is 26 weeks and they do fairly very well."

Daphne Muhinda has a health condition which forced her to give birth prematurely, before her breasts had produced milk. It was a traumatic expericence for her.

She says: "I was operated on the 26th after one week trying to stabilize the pressure and it was not successful, so the baby needed milk, I tried to press, pressed, I didn't have enough for the baby and it was so stressing pressing these breasts to get milk, I think because we were not yet nine months old so it was really stressing, it was a nightmare whenever I could think about pressing these breasts for milk it was really a nightmare. So I asked them for an option and they told me to get a donor which was a relief when I got one," says Muhinda.

This fridge is all the hospital has to keep the donated milk for future use. It is not enough, and it's bit safe according to Nakibuuka.

They are now in the process of having a permanent bank built to store enough breast milk from mothers who are willing to donate their excess milk.

"Because the number of babies that need the donated breast milk are increasing we thought we need to get a proper bank where we can have a proper pasteurizer, a proper fridge and proper storage for this milk because the milk is always there and its always available," she says.

Women have been donating breast milk to needy babies for thousands of years.

History books show that the practice of wet nursing dates back to Greco-Roman times.

The first human milk banks were set up in Europe and the US in 1909 and 1910 respectively.


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