UGANDA – Uganda is set to get its first Human Milk Bank, the second in East Africa with one in Kenya, which will be hosted by Nsambya Hospital.

The UGShs 3.5 Billion innovation is being mooted as a solution to challenges faced by mothers of premature babies who fail to feed their children because they lack milk at the time.

Dr. Richard Mugahi, the Assistant Commissioner on Reproductive and Infant Health in the Ministry of Health says that the biggest challenges medics face when looking after preterm babies is failure to feed them because their mothers often fail to produce enough milk.

He adds that access to breast milk by neonates is anticipated to cut the number of neonatal deaths that are now estimated at 27 per 1000 live births.

The doctor also said that there are so many women who cannot afford to buy formula for their very sick children and these have entirely depended on milk.  He notes that the milk at the bank will be free for premature babies and that there will be campaigns for a voluntary donation of breast milk from healthy mothers.

Dr. Gatare Alphonse, the medical superintendent at Bwera General Referral Hospital says that premature babies spend one to three months in hospitals before they are discharged, and they tend to grapple with more health problems due to their weak bodies.

He adds that mothers of premature babies often have insufficient breast milk and this affects their chances of growing.

Gatare wants the ministry to develop a mechanism that will see facilities with neonatal services in rural areas benefit from the innovation.

The milk bank comes at a time when the country is registering about 226,000 babies born prematurely each year. This is out of around 1.4 million births in the country each year. Preterm birth is that which occurs before 37 weeks while full-term birth occurs between 39-40 weeks.

Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. However, nearly 2 out of 3 infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended 6 months—a rate that has not improved in 2 decades.

Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life.

Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.

WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.

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