Uganda’s Ministry of Health has partnered with St Francis Hospital, Nsambya, to establish the country’s first human milk bank. The initiative is aimed at addressing the high death rates among babies born prematurely.
The assistant commissioner for health services at the Ministry, Dr Richard Mugahi, disclosed the aim behind the initiative, He said; “Premature babies have a big challenge of feeding. Uganda is innovating with the first human milk bank in the country which we shall be launching on November 25,”
Dr Mugahi was speaking at a media training in Kampala yesterday ahead of World Prematurity Day, which will be commemorated on November 17 in Kasese, under the theme “Zero Separation Act now! Keep parents and babies born too soon together”
Dr Mugahi added that premature babies spend one to three months in hospitals before discharge, and they tend to grapple with more health problems. This leaves significant social and economic effects on the family and child.
Dr Victoria Nakibuuka, a newborn health specialist at St Francis Hospital, Nsambya, also said mothers of premature babies often have insufficient breast milk.
She said, “Breast milk is very important for preterm babies. It works as medicine, food and infers immunity to the baby. It is important for the baby to survive, reduces the time of stay on oxygen in hospital and improves eye development of the baby,”
Ms Nakibuuka said mothers often do not have sufficient milk because of stress and other conditions. 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.
According to a 2019 study by Dr Walufu Ivan Egesa on the burden of preterm birth. The death rate among children born prematurely can be as high as 31.6 per cent in some hospitals in the country.
The report which was published in the journal of Pediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, indicates that lack of facilities to handle babies born prematurely is also a big roadblock towards curbing preventable deaths.
Preterm birth is that which occurs before 37 weeks while full-term birth occurs between 39-40 weeks, according to experts.
Dr Nakibuuka said the milk at the bank will be free for premature babies and that the donation of breast milk from “healthy mothers” will be voluntary.
In order to make this effective, she said; “We have imported refrigerators that will help us store the milk at -20 degrees Centigrade for up to three months. We have been engaging mothers who come to the hospital on the issue of donating breast milk,”
Dr Nakibuuka said they will start in Kampala and expand as they build expertise to handle the life-saving milk.
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