Uganda’s first Breast Milk Bank fighting Stigma, Myths

In 2021, St. Francis Hospital Nsambya unveiled Uganda’s first-ever breast milk bank to ensure babies whose mothers can not produce milk can access safe breast milk.

According to the hospital, the project was earmarked last year in November but received a slow start owing to the numerous myths, stigma and misconceptions surrounding breast milk sharing.

Dr. Victoria Nakibuuka who is a neonatologist at the hospital said the breakthrough came in 2015, when a baby survived on pasteurised milk from a donor. The survival rate for at risk babies which was at 75%, gradually improved to 94% because of breast milk. I saw medical staff’s attitudes change, despite their initial hesitation, she says.

Nakibuuka contends that a lot of factors contribute to a mother’s failure to produce breast milk, especially premature births, stress, and diabetes among other factors therefore the need to equip health workers and the general public with the right information about the safety of the practice.

Through a programme dubbed Family connect where mothers share and receive tips on how to nurse their young ones, one can apply for or donate breast milk from the facility.

The donors are screened for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis and other communicable diseases. The collection occurs at the hospital, where the milk is pasteurised, packaged and stored.

However, only 10 babies have benefited from the project, with only 22 donors over the last six months.

The government is working to create a policy that would formalize the process and facilitate information sharing.

In 2019, Ugandan researchers conducted a neonatal mortality study with data from 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016. The study, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, found that in the most recent three years, the neonatal death rate was up to 3.3 times higher in babies who were not fed breast milk immediately after birth.

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