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Breast milk donation: Experts call for effective screening facilities

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | As plans to fully operationalize Uganda’s first human breast milk bank takes shape, experts are warning about the likelihood of getting milk that could transmit diseases to babies if proper screening is not done.

Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, a pediatrician at the HIV clinic of Baylor Uganda said that while they are now recommending breast feeding even for HIV positive mothers for six months with the review of guidelines recently to include a safer drug dolutegravir in their regimens, they still fear many are not adhering.

She said increasingly, more people will be turning to wet nurses (mothers who breast feed other mothers’ children) for especially babies whose parents die at birth or have underlying conditions that can’t allow them to breast feed but warns that HIV positive women shouldn’t donate milk.

She explains that while the exact way HIV transmits through breast milk is unknown, studies have found traces of the virus in milk and yet other studies have suggested that when a mother or wet nurse has lesions on the nipples and blood enters the milk, there are high chances of the baby acquiring HIV.

Already at Nsambya hospital that is hosting the first bank, Angela Kenyange a midwife says mothers living with HIV are currently being given priority to access the milk.

According to the Ministry of Health, full operationalization of the bank was supposed to be earlier this year in February but by that time they were still installing key equipment which can handle large amounts of milk safely and quickly, they were disrupted by the pandemic.

When the facility is finally fully set up, it’s anticipated that more women will be able to meet the recommendation by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization of breast feeding babies for six months which is currently untenable especially for working class mothers who have resorted to expressing and use of formula milk.

Kitaka says they have subjected this to a study.

She notes that a lot of women face stigma for not being able to breast feed.

However, every first week of August is marked as World Breastfeeding Week meant to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.

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