Tuesday 26 May 2015

KZN launches Human Milk Banks

Far too few South African women practice exclusive breastfeeding and, as a result, far too many children are dying. Only just over 8% of South African women feed their babies breast milk only for the first six months of their lives although research shows that exclusive breast feeding is the best possible start they can give them in life.

A study in 2009 showed that 62 out of 1000 South African children had died before they reached the age of five and this figure had not changed since 1999 despite the huge improvements that democracy had brought in the form of housing, piped water, health facilities and social grants. In some 34% of premature deaths, malnutrition was the underlying cause.

In KwaZulu Natal, another study in 2012 showed infant mortality down to 42 per 1000 live births. This year, the figure was further reduced to 31 infant deaths per 1000.  This is still too high. The Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2000 stipulate that there should be fewer than 20 deaths per 1000 by 2015.

In an attempt to reach this goal, the KwaZulu Natal Department of Health, in partnership with the University of KwaZulu Natal, is encouraging all women to breastfeed exclusively for six months. It is an ambitious initiative and includes the establishment of human milk banks throughout the province so that orphaned and premature babies and those with mothers too sick to breastfeed can also benefit. A call has gone out to healthy mothers to donate their breast milk.

Ms Leonore Spies, Director of the Integrated Nutrition Programme at the KZN Department of Health, explains: “In South Africa, what most children die of is respiratory tract infections but the underlying reason is malnutrition.  Exclusive breastfeeding is the single most important thing you can do for your child. Most South African mothers don’t breastfeed for long. About 90% start breastfeeding in hospital but they don’t sustain it. The culture is mixed feeding: you get breast milk combined with formula, tea and water.

“Breast milk provides immunity and protection. If babies do get an infection, it won’t be as bad and they will get better more quickly.”

Since anti-retroviral medication became freely available, HIV positive mothers no longer need fear passing on the virus to their babies and formula milk is no longer supplied by the state.

Professor Anna Coutsoudis from the Department of Paediatrics at UKZN explains why breast milk is so good for babies: “It protects them both from short-term illness and adverse health outcomes later in life. In formula-fed infants, there is an increased incidence of gastroenteritis, pneumonia, otitis media, and asthma.  Breastfed children are also less likely to experience childhood leukemias, type I and type II diabetes, and obesity compared to those who are formula fed. Breast milk is especially important for premature infants as it reduces the risk of a disease of the intestine known as necrotizing enterocolitis which carries a risk of mortality and poor quality of life for survivors.”

The Minister of Health, Aaron Motsaoledi, has called for Human Milk Banks to be set up throughout the country. KwaZuluNatal has led the way, with five Human Milk Banks already up and running and another six to be opened soon. They are run according to internationally accepted guidelines in order to ensure the safety of vulnerable babies.

Potential donors undergo a health screening. They are then given sterile jars into which their milk is expressed. The milk is tested, pasteurized and frozen, ready to be supplied to babies in need.

The Human Milk Banks act as central processing banks. Clinics and hospital forward donated breast milk to them so that it can be pasteurized and frozen.

So far, Human Milk Banks have been established at:
Stanger Hospital, Stanger
King Edward VIII Hospital, Congella
Greys Hospital, Pietermartizburg and Edendale Hospital, Edendale
Newcastle Hospital, Newcastle
Lower Umfolozi Mother and Children’s Hospital, Empangeni

A further six will be established at:
Port Shepstone Hospital, Port Shepstone
Ladysmith Hospital, Ladysmith
Dundee Hospital, Dundee
Nkonjeni Hospital, Mahlabathini
Bethesda Hospital, Umbombo
Christ the King Hospital, Ixopo

In addition, another five smaller Human Milk Banks with small pasteurising units will be set up in the next six months. They will be at:
RK Khan Hospital, Chatsworth
Mahatma Gandhi Hospital, Edgecombe
Addington Hospital, Durban
GJ Crookes Hospital, Scottburgh
Murchison Hospital, Port Shepstone

To find out more about the Human Milk Banks in public hospitals please contact Mrs Ronel Sorgenfrei from the KZN Department of Health on

Milk banks run by other organisations include:

iThemba Lethu, a community based milk bank. Contact: Joelle Gibson on
<joelle@ithembalethu.org.za>  phone 031-2617723.
Human Milk Banking Association: hmbasa.org.za
In Gauteng, South African Breastmilk Reserve: sabr.org.za
In Cape Town, Milk Matters: milkmatters.org.za
In Kloof, KZN, the National Road Pharmacy acts as a depot for screening donors and collecting and storing breast milk. Contact is: Cindy Bradley  at clinic@nationalroadpharm.co.za   or 031 764 0311

Issued by Community Media Trust