How Milk Banks in Rajasthan Have Saved 1500 Infants From Death and Disease

In a country where 40 out of every 1000 infants die before the age of 5, milk banks come to rescue. In Rajasthan, one such a milk bank set up in 2013 has saved the lives of 1500 infants in three years. 

Human milk is the only life-saving, nutritious food that can keep an infant alive and healthy. Without that, they’re prone to diseases and malnutrition. Even formula milk cannot be a substitute to breast milk, simply because breast milk contains antibodies, enzymes and hormones, which are not found in formula milk powder, and cannot be replicated in any other form.

India’s infant mortality rate is staggering – about 40 infants out of 1000 die before reaching the age of 5, from incidents that can be completely preventable. One of the states with the highest rate is Rajasthan, where 47% infants die before the age of 5. Many die of diseases that could all be prevented if they were breastfed with nutritious milk.

The recent success stories that come out the state of Rajasthan, now home to three more milk banks, is proof enough that we need to set up more of such institutions around the country.

baby

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Divya Mothers’ Milk Bank was set up by Devendra Agarwal, who first ran an orphanage, where infant deaths from malnutrition and diseases were frequent. When he realised that they were dying because they didn’t get mother’s milk, he immediately scurried about to build a bank of human milk. The Rajasthan government pooled in, and, with an investment of Rs 10 lakh, started the milk bank in Udaipur in 2013. In the three years since then, DMMB has been able to save 1500 children from malnutrition and death.

With increasing awareness about the need for breastfeeding, families in India are now more open to taking the help of milk banks when there’s a deficiency. For instance, a milk bank set up at Jaipur’s Mahatma Gandhi Hospital in February 2016 has already collected over 25,000 millilitres of milk from 74 donors. Called Amrit, about 196 units of milk have been provided to infants in the first two months of its launch.

India ranks low among South Asian countries when it comes to breastfeeding infants, according to a Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) report. Published in January 2015, the report noted that about 44% babies met the minimum meal frequency rate, while only 7% babies managed to get the minimum dietary requirements through their feeding. This could be attributed to malnutrition and the inability to produce milk in mothers, common misconceptions, along with superstitious beliefs (such as breastfeeding leads to pot belly in children).

According to the UNICEF, which celebrates the first week of August as World Breastfeeding Week, infants who have been breastfed have a six times higher chance of survival than non-breastfed babies. It could also potentially save the lives of 800,000 babies (about 13%) in the world.

A Gujarat-based study stated that mothers who didn’t initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, along with malnutrition and ending breastfeeding before two years of age, led to increased chances of diarrhea in the infant. It also reduces likelihood of acute respiratory illnesses.

The first milk bank in India, Sneha, was set up in 1989 in Mumbai by Armida Fernandez. The milk collected from mothers is given to premature and sick babies born in government hospitals. Dr Fernandez, who celebrated the 25th year of its launch in 2014, believes that if we can have pasteurised milk from cows and buffalos, then there shouldn’t be any problems giving pasteurised human milk to babies.

A willing, lactating mother can sign up for donating milk at a milk bank facility, mostly found in hospitals.

milk bank

Breast pumps – representational image

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Milk is pumped, pasteurised, and then frozen, with a shelf life of up to six months. When an infant requires it, the milk is warmed up and fed to the child.

When mothers are unable to produce breast milk, or the babies are too weak to suckle, it is these milk banks that come to the rescue. On the other hand, milk banks in city areas are beneficial for working women who have to handle a job and family life together.

However, there are less than 20 milk banks in the country, in Mumbai (which has four centres), Pune, Hyderabad, Vadodara, Udaipur, Jaipur, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi. Compared to Europe, which has 203 milk banks, and Brazil with 210, India can definitely do with more milk banks to combat its infant mortality problem.

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