The Human Milk Bank opened in Croatia

Improving access to breast milk for prematurely born and seriously ill girls and boys in Croatia

20 November 2019
Zdravstvena djelatnica u zaštitnom odjelu u Banci humanog mlijeka
Banka humanog mlijeka

Zagreb, 15 November 2019 – The Human Milk Bank opened in the University Hospital Centre Zagreb (KBC) on the occasion of the World Prematurity Day. The project is the result of the collaboration between the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, initiated by the Croatian Association of Breastfeeding Support Groups. The total value of the project is just over HRK 8 million, of which the Ministry of Health provided HRK 5 million and UNICEF HRK 3.4 million.  The Milk Bank was officially opened by Prof. Milan Kujundžić, DSc, Minister of Health, Regina M. Castillo, Head of the UNICEF Office for Croatia, and Prof. Ante Ćorušić, DSc, director of KBC Zagreb.

Prof. Milan Kujundžić, DSc, Minister of Health announced: “Today we are opening a Human Milk Bank at the University Hospital Centre Zagreb, for the wellbeing of premature babies and infants when their mother’s milk is not available. Human breastmilk from a Human Milk Bank will provide the best care and will help reduce the onset of long-term complications and will also lower the mortality rate. The Ministry of Health has recognized the establishment of a Human Milk Bank as one of the key investments in the wellbeing of our youngest children. In fact, the activities to establish the Croatian Human Milk Bank started in 2014. This objective is also included in the Ministry of Health Strategic Plan 2018-2020 and funds have been secured in the state budget. On this occasion, I would especially like to thank the UNICEF Office for Croatia for its financial support to this project, the University Hospital Centre Zagreb for all the activities undertaken to implement it, as well as the Croatian Association of Breastfeeding Support Groups for initiating the project and all others who have participated and contributed to achieving this important goal".   

On average, 2,000 children in Croatia are born prematurely each year, and of this number 400 need intensive medical care to survive.  When their mother’s milk is not available for prematurely born or seriously ill girls and boys, the best choice is donated breastmilk. 

Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF Representative in Croatia, continued by saying: “This is a great day for Croatia and a big step forward when it comes to the care we provide for the youngest girls and boys in Croatia, those who are prematurely born. For them, mother’s milk is more than food.  It is a medicine that can help them survive. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF has been supporting the Human Milk Bank from the very beginning. This would not have been possible without the great support from our donors, UNICEF’s Childhood Guardians and companies. I would particularly like to point out that of the HRK 3.4 million that UNICEF has invested in the Human Milk Bank, HRK 1 million came from the legacy donation to UNICEF from Ms Heda Dubac-Šohaj, a medical doctor who wanted to leave a lasting legacy for the children of Croatia”.

The opening of the Human Milk Bank in Croatia is highly important in helping to provide the best possible medical care for prematurely born babies and infants with a serious medical condition when they cannot receive their mother’s milk.

"Breast milk is crucial for the survival and health of newborn babies because it has unique immune and nutritional features. In cases where the infant's mother's milk is not available for the infant at risk, another woman's milk should be provided. Every country that has a quality health care system should enable the infant to be fed breastmilk, so this is also a testament to the quality of the Croatian health system. Breast milk, that will be available at the Human Milk Bank is proved to be very beneficial for better survival rates and the type and severity of complications in premature born babies and infants who, for medical or other reasons, cannot be breastfed. The Human Milk Bank is part of the Croatian Tissue and Cell Bank operating within the Clinical Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Transplantation Biology, KBC Zagreb. The Bank also has a Breastfeeding Support Center. Human Milk Bank is a part of our largest maternity ward, at Petrova 13. For the renovation of the space, the Ministry of Health has provided funds in the State Budget, and we especially thank Minister, Milan Kujundžić for the support. The cost of the renovation was approximately HRK 5 million. The costs of equipping the Human Milk Bank were borne by UNICEF, and all technical and organizational tasks were successfully completed by KBC Zagreb. Today's grand opening is a testament to the fact that good, high-quality cooperation can all do a lot for the benefit of the community and Croatian children. The role of UNICEF is immeasurably important, with particular emphasis on the professor Grgurić, minister Milan Kujundžić and all employees of KBC Zagreb ", said Ante Ćorušić, Head of University Hospital Centre Zagreb.

As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, this is an opportunity for all of us in society to make an additional effort in fulfilling children’s rights. The Human Milk Bank is an important step in the realization of children's right to survival and healthcare. There are currently 239 human milk banks operating in Europe (including the Human Milk Bank in Croatia), with 14 more planned. When it comes to neighbouring countries, 37 human milk banks are operating in Italy, eight in Hungary and three in Serbia. Slovenia is currently working on establishing a bank while there is no human milk bank in Bosnia and Herzegovina yet.

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Marin Ilej
Communication Officer


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