Soon, preterm and low-birth weight babies at the State-run Vani Vilas Hospital can get supportive breast milk free of cost. The hospital is all set to start its in-house human milk bank.
This will be the first government human milk bank in Karnataka. The donors will be mothers from the hospital. The milk will be provided free of cost to sick and preterm babies at the hospital. At present, a private hospital in Bengaluru has set up one such facility in association with a non-profit organisation.
With a funding of ₹36.4 lakh from the National Health Mission (NHM) and ₹42 lakh from Karnataka Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (KAPL), the hospital is ready with infrastructure for the milk bank.
“KAPL has provided us freezers, breast pumps, scanning equipment and computers for the bank. What we now need are milk analysers that will help in accurate milk testing and adulterant screening,” said Geeta Shivamurthy, hospital medical superintendent.
Asserting the need for a human milk bank at the hospital, Dr. Shivamurthy said that nearly 40% of the 1,500 babies born in the hospital every month are in need of supportive breast milk. This is either because they are born preterm or have low birth weight. Also, as some mothers have low milk supply (poor lactation), they are unable to breastfeed their babies to the required quantity. Vani Vilas attends to nearly 4,000 sick babies in a year.
Moreover, with Vani Vilas being a referral maternity hospital, several women with high-risk pregnancies are referred there from across the State. Feeding newborns, especially ones with low birth weight, with pasteurised breast milk can reduce the risk of infections and boost the immune system.
“Apart from feeding babies from our hospital, we can also use the donated milk for babies in two other government hospitals — Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health and Hajee Sir Ismail Sait Gosha Hospital,” the doctor said.
The hospital has submitted a proposal to NHM seeking the deployment of trained manpower to run the milk bank. “We will require at least 13 persons, including technicians, lactation experts and counsellors, for the bank. Till we get the additional deployment, we will run it with the existing hospital staff,” she said.
Venkatesh N., Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (OBG) at Vikram Hospital, said there is a need for a human milk bank in a government facility as breast milk is the best nutritional food source for babies and should be available to those deprived of mother’s milk.
This initiative is in line with the World Health Organization’s Millennium Development Goals to reduce Infant Mortality Rate. The WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend that the best feed for a baby who cannot be breastfed is milk expressed from their own mother or from another healthy mother, said Dr. Venkatesh, who is also former president of Bangalore Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
In 2016, The Hindu had reported about a proposal submitted by a private company to Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI) expressing an interest in collaborating with Vani Vilas Hospital and setting up a commercial milk bank using donor mothers from the hospital.
According to that proposal, the firm wanted to set up a collection facility at Vani Vilas. The collected milk was to be transported to a “pharmaceutical-grade” facility in Jigani, where it would be processed and stored for commercial supply to babies.
However, the proposal was shot down following criticism from breastfeeding advocates and doctors, who described the sale of breast milk from women in Vani Vilas as exploitation of poor mothers.