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Millennium Post

Banking on mothers

A crib placed right in front of Panna Dhai Hospital in Udaipur got a premature infant on May 16. The girl weighed 1.25 kg, not even half the weight of a normal newborn. She was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit where she was fed mother’s milk. Her health improved within days. Just a day ago, an HIV-positive woman from Lakadvas village had delivered a baby in the hospital. Her family was scared that breastfeeding would infect the child. At the same time, it was dismayed that the infant would be deprived of the nutrition vital for a newborn. She, too, was given mother’s milk. Both the infants, like many others in the hospital, received milk from Divya Mother Milk Bank, opened on April 14 on the hospital premises.

The bank was started by Devendra Agrawal, who placed the crib outside the hospital and runs an orphanage in his house, with an initial investment of Rs 20 lakh. Within one-and-a-half months, it has already received 30 mothers. Twenty-six-year-old Rekha Chhaidwal has been travelling five kilometres every day for the past one month in the scorching summer heat to donate milk. ‘It gives me immense pleasure when I think that needy children benefit from my milk. My husband motivates me to donate. I will continue to do so as long as I can,’ she says. Chhaidwal has a four-month-old son and a two-year-old daughter. Twenty-year-old Manisha Ved saw the milk bank when she went to the hospital for her five-month-old daughter’s regular check-up. She was encouraged to donate by her mother who had breastfed her son for up to two years.

There are eight such banks in the country, which include four in Mumbai and one each in Pune, Hyderabad and Vadodara. At the Udaipur bank, three staff members process milk from the donors and store it in deep freezer. They first test the blood samples of donors for HIV, Hepatitis B and veneral diseases. The donor then breastfeeds her own child to ensure that she/he does not remain deprived. With the help of a silent electric breast pump, the donor’s milk is collected in a container. Milk of about five donors is mixed to ensure even distribution of all the components. It is then checked for any bacterial growth. Contaminated milk is discarded and the rest is pasteurised and frozen at -20°C.

Till May 30, the bank had collected 360 units of milk (one unit equals 30 ml). As many as 168 units have been issued to infants admitted to the hospital. The bank also has provision for donors who wish to breastfeed babies. ‘Each donor gets a card which entitles her to procure the bank’s milk for any child. They will get milk first in case of shortage. But we hope a crisis never arises,’ says Agarwal.

But the demand is huge. ‘The hospital admits around 200 children to its neonatal intensive care unit every month,’ says R K Agarwal, former president of Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP).

On arrangement with Down to Earth magazine
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