Benefits, cost-effectiveness and safety issues of a human milk bank

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Pamelia Khaled:

Although human milk is essential for the newborn, there is a limited number of human banks across the world. The literature on human milk-bank indicates that the first human milk bank was opened in Vienna, Austria, in 1909. In North America, milk bank was opened in 1919 in Boston, USA.
And in Canada, only the Vancouver, British Columbia, milk bank is operational today. In the 1980s, many banks were closed because of the fear of spreading HIV. However, currently, the number of milk banks is increasing throughout the world, such as in the United States, Europe, South America, and Australia.
There is no human milk bank or supply of donor breast milk in Bangladesh currently. So, initiatives of building a human bank in Bangladesh could be prioritized to sick neonates with interventions.
We all know that breast milk is an excellent source of nutrition for babies, especially for the first six months of life. And breast milk is an essential healthy diet for the first two years. Then, how breast milk is different than the infant formulas, human breast milk is filled with a bioactive matrix of benefits, and any other source of nutrition cannot replicate that.
A human-milk bank is necessary, but why. And who can be benefited from human milk? When the mother’s milk is unavailable for her sickness, or a newborn is in a vulnerable condition, pasteurized human donor milk should be accessible for those babies. Human milk is also beneficial for preterm babies, and when a mother is unable to supply enough breast milk. So human milk bank is not merely an alternative feeding preference; preferably, it has significance to a sick child’s life.
The literature on human milk benefits indicates that that human milk-fed babies are less prone to infection when they are in the neonatal intensive care unit, and other risk factors are also less. Promoting human milk for the neonates is cost-effective as it helps to stay in the hospital for a limited time. The most important benefit of breast milk is the preterm baby’s neurodevelopmental result.
The literature on human milk banks suggests some measures, such as the necessity of pasteurization and its effects and mother donors’ health. As there are safety issues, pasteurization should be done correctly. Milk must be collected appropriately, stored, pasteurized, and cultured following International food preparation guidelines. There are some effects of the pasteurization process. The pasteurization inactivates bacterial and viral contaminants. Thus, all beneficial immune cells also get inactivated. Nevertheless, still pasteurized human milk is beneficial as many of the nutritional components do not change, such as carbohydrates, fats, and salts.
And mother donors must undergo repeated and rigorous medical tests before milk donation. They will go for serology tests and individual interviews. Mothers should not be recruited as a donor if they on medications, or they smoke and drink. And need to ensure if milk donation is for an altruistic reason.
For the Bangladesh case, planning for human milk banks, the above safety measures recommendations are imperative. And health conditions screening of the milk donors is essential.

The writer is a Doctoral Candidate working on peace and conflict resolution through science at Curriculum Studies and teacher, Development department, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), Research Assistant, University of Toronto, and founder-president of Volunteer Association for Bangladesh-Canada.

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