YANGON, 11 January 2020 –Today marks a milestone in Myanmar’s efforts to cultivate an enabling environment for breastfeeding with the official relaunch of the first human milk bank in the country, which has recently been upgraded to meet international best practices, in the Yangon Central Women’s Hospital.
Breastfeeding is vital for child survival, growth, and cognitive development, as well as contributes to the socioeconomic development of families, communities, and nations. Unfortunately, many infants do not have access to their mother’s milk, often due to maternal illness, a delay in milk production, abandonment, or being born premature. In such instances, the World Health Organization recommends donated human milk from human milk banks as the second-best choice. “Human milk banks are an essential component of breastfeeding-friendly health systems, giving pre-term, low birth weight and other at-risk infants access to the vast benefits of breastmilk when they need it most,” said Roger Mathisen, Programme Director of Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia.
The high-quality human milk bank was upgraded from its original facility opened in 1994. “Even prior to its upgrade, the Human Milk Bank significantly contributed to a neonatal mortality rate reduction at Yangon Central Women’s Hospital from 35 per 1,000 live births in 1991 to 17 per 1,000 live births in 2017 even before upgrading the facility,” lauded Dr Nant San San Aye, Human Milk Bank Coordinator.
Recognizing the growing importance of the donated breastmilk and the increasing number of premature infants, Yangon Central Women’s Hospital has been working with the National Nutrition Center, Medical Services, UNICEF and Alive & Thrive since 2018 to upgrade and standardize the Human Milk Bank in line with global best practices. It also received significant support from Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS), and Ministry of Construction.
To position itself as a safe source of pasteurized human milk, the hospital learned from global and regional experiences to design standard operating procedures and hazard analysis and management processes; installed advanced technology equipment for milk expressing, testing, pasteurizing and storing; and strengthened staff capacity.
Since 2015, the milk bank has worked with 20,000 mothers who donated 5,400 litres of breastmilk, which was then screened, processed and distributed to more than 3,000 infants born premature or who suffered from low birth weight at Yangon Central Women’s Hospital.
“I am delighted to know that my breastmilk can nourish many babies, along with my own. Sharing milk is sharing love,” shared U Min Min Oo, a mother at the launching ceremony.
In addition to its Human Milk Bank, the Yangon Central Women’s Hospital also comprehensively implements early essential newborn care. Mothers who deliver at this hospital have 90 minutes of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with their babies right after birth and initiate breastfeeding within 1 hour.
“The Human Milk Bank provides a link between neonatal care and breastfeeding, connecting at-risk newborns with human milk. An integrated approach linking neonatal care, human milk banking and breastfeeding promotion is vital to successful breastfeeding of children,” said Dr Kyaw Win Sein, Nutrition Specialist of UNICEF in Myanmar.
This first standardized human milk bank will serve as a case study with valuable learnings for the government as it finalizes and rolls out its National Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures for human milk bank services in Myanmar. As part of national plans to improve Infant and Young Child Feeding, the MOHS is actively pursuing the expansion of HMB programmes to five additional hospitals: Yangon Children’s Hospital, North Okkalapa General and Teaching Hospital, Central Women’s Hospital Mandalay, 550 bedded Children’s Hospital Mandalay, and Women and Children’s Hospital Taunggyi.
Chan Myae Aung, Technical Specialist, Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia. CAung@fhi360.org, +95 9 403 525 329
Htet Htet Oo, Communication Officer, UNICEF Myanmar. email@example.com, +959250075238
Live photos of the event: https://www.tinyurl.com/CWH-Human-Milk-Bank
Notes for editors:
The Central Women’s Hospital (CWH) in Yangon is an 800-bedded hospital with the highest delivery rate of any health facility in Myanmar, at about approximately 15,000 per year. UNICEF works with partners around the world to promote policies and expand access to services that protect all children. Alive & Thrive is an initiative to save lives, prevent illness, and ensure healthy growth and development through optimal maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and complementary feeding practices.
UNICEF in Myanmar
UNICEF has been working with the Government and the people of Myanmar since 1950. In partnership with the Government and the civil society, UNICEF’s current focus of work aims at reducing child mortality, improving access and quality of education and protecting children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
For more information about UNICEF and its work in Myanmar: