Children's Health OurHealth

Human breast milk banks on the rise

Written by Mpho Lekgetho

Kuruman’s Tshwaragano District Hospital is set to become home to South Africa’s latest human breast milk bank as another bank is reportedly slated to open in Limpopo.

The new breast milk bank is expected to help feed orphan infants as well as those in the care of guardians like grandmothers (File photo)

The new breast milk bank is expected to help feed orphan infants as well as those in the care of guardians like grandmothers (File photo)

According to the Northern Cape Department of Health, the initiative piloted with the help of the international health organisation PATH will help improve infant nutrition. PATH will be working to create awareness about the programme as well as recruit new mums as donors who will be screened for HIV and other illnesses prior to screening, according to PATH district mentor Ronelle Khumalo.  Khumalo was speaking at a recent Women’s Health Dialogue.

Fridges in which to store the milk have already been ordered for the hospital. The milk is expected to help children including orphaned infants as well as babies who might live with guardians, such as grandmothers, who are not their biological mothers.

The breast milk bank is located in the John Taolo Gaetsewe health district, where about 13 percent of children under the age of five admitted for severe malnutrition died last year, according to the recently released District Health Barometer.

According to PATH, the organisation will also be partnering with the Department of Health to establish support groups for breastfeeding moms to discuss issues surrounding breast feeding. Fathers will be encouraged to attend.

In August, SABC reported that a breast milk bank has also been planned for Limpopo’s Mankweng Hospital in Polokwane.

The rising number of breast milk banks across the country is a product of renewed calls to promote breastfeeding in South Africa.

After South Africa reportedly charted some of the lowest rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the world, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi took a 2011 decision to stop providing free formula milk and to promote exclusive breastfeeding for all mothers, including those living with HIV provided they were on antiretroviral treatment.

International agencies such as UNICEF have supported the shift pointing out that infant formula lacks essential nutrients and antibodies to protect children from illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia. Exclusive breastfeeding also reduces the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission in comparison to mixed feeding, or when mothers feed babies both breast milk and solids like porridge.

An edited version of this story also appeared on Health24 

About the author

Mpho Lekgetho

Mpho Lekgetho is our citizen journalists based in Kuruman at the John Taolo Gaetsewe District in the Northern Cape. She has a qualification in Industrial Psychology from Unisa. Mpho is a former radio presenter at Kurara community radio station. She is currently working as a data collector for HSRC and is also a chairperson of the JTG Civil Society Forum and co-chairs District Aids Council.