Nepal’s first Human Milk Bank

Nepal’s first-ever Human Milk Bank has been established in Kathmandu, with President Bidya Devi Bhandari inaugurating it at the Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital on Friday. 

The milk bank ensures a baby-friendly health system and gives premature, low birthweight and other at-risk infants access to the benefits of breastmilk and a healthy start to life.

An estimated 81,000 babies are born pre-term in Nepal every year, and low birthweight babies face a higher risk of dying in the first month. Nepal’s neonatal mortality rate is 16 per 1,000 live births during first 28 days of life, and 25 out of 1,000 babies die before their first birthday. Although Nepal’s infant mortality rate has been reduced dramatically in the  past 20 years, neonatal mortality is still high.

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“Human breast milk contains the best source of nutrition and ensures survival and healthy growth of babies. It bolsters brain development and has lifelong benefits for the baby and the mother,” says Bibek Kumar Lal of the Family Welfare Division at the Ministry of Health and Population. “It contains antibodies which offer a powerful line of defence against infection and malnutrition and helps towards preventing deaths of infants and young children,” Lal adds.  

Exclusive breastfeeding has the potential to prevent 13% of under-five deaths globally each year. In Nepal, only 42% of children under 2 years of age are breastfed within one hour of birth, and 62% of children under six months are exclusively breastfed, according to a 2019 survey. 

“Premature, low birthweight and small for gestational age babies usually have feeding problems and direct breastfeeding is often not possible. So, the next best alternative is breast milk, preferably from their biological mother,” says Amir Babu Shrestha of Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital.

Such newborns are usually given infant formula milk, which exposes them to risk of infection. Donor human milk is therefore preferred.

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The new Human Milk Bank called Amrit Kosh at the Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital has the facilities to collect, pasteurise, test and store safe donor human milk from lactating mothers and then provide it to infants in need. The centre has been established in partnership with the European Union and UNICEF.

Says EU Ambassador to Nepal Nona Deprez: “We are proud that this tripartite partnership has led to the establishment of Amrit Kosh, we hope that more and more newborns unable to receive their mother’s milk can benefit from breastmilk in protecting their health and supporting their development.”

Nepal’s Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP) seeks to improve maternal, adolescent, and child nutrition throughout Nepal by promoting healthy, nutritious, and diversified diets for adolescents, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, infants, and young children. Since 2013, UNICEF has been supporting the Government of Nepal in implementing MSNP, with funding support from the European Union.

“The Human Milk Bank initiative is critical to advancing our joint efforts under Nepal’s Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan to improve child nutrition and particularly to address acute malnutrition of children in Nepal,” says Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative to Nepal.

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