New project will strengthen human milk banking systems by establishing best practices—expanding and improving services for vulnerable infants
Zug, Switzerland and Seattle, Washington, March 21, 2017—A new grant from the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation (FLRF) will allow PATH, a global health nonprofit organization, to begin closing gaps that hinder babies' access to lifesaving human milk. Based in Switzerland, FLRF is a charitable organization which promotes research in human milk and lactation.
Of all known approaches to improving child survival, human milk has the greatest potential impact, according to evidence from the World Health Organization and numerous studies worldwide. In 2016, The Lancet reported that scaling up breastfeeding to a near-universal level could prevent an estimated 823,000 deaths each year in children younger than age five. Timely access is especially critical for babies who are born sick, low-birthweight, premature, or otherwise vulnerable.
For high-risk babies who lack access to their own mother's milk, human milk banks (HMBs) offer a lifesaving alternative. Optimally designed HMBs promote breastfeeding while safely collecting, storing, processing, and distributing donated milk to babies in need. Yet the optimal operation and expansion of banks and banking systems is hindered by a lack of standards, tools, and guidelines to improve technical capacity and guide best practice. With the two-year, US$1.2 million grant to the Foundation for Appropriate Technology in Health (FATH), PATH's Swiss affiliate, FLRF and PATH are teaming up to close the gap.
"We are grateful for this generous donation," says PATH project leader Kiersten Israel-Ballard. "It furthers PATH and FLRF's shared goal of protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding. There is an urgent need to develop a common understanding of the role human milk banks play in reaching that goal, and to ensure that global standards and accessible materials on how human milk banks should operate are widely available."
PATH's innovative approach to newborn health includes promoting human milk banking systems that not only provide safe donated milk but also support mothers who can breastfeed, mobilize local communities to support both breastfeeding and milk donation, and promote critical skin-to-skin contact between parents and babies.
With this donation, PATH will draw on four decades of expertise in nutrition and in maternal, newborn, and child health and development, including human milk banking, to develop a toolkit on global standards for quality control and implementation, pre-test them to ensure appropriateness across a range of geographies, and work with global partners to ensure these materials are accessible and customizable.
"Significantly, the project is also focused on helping countries and health systems integrate HMBs within other routine nutrition and newborn care activities," says Göran Larsson, Chairman of FLRF. "That alignment is critical to allowing human milk to realize its full—but still unrealized—role as a pillar of child survival. With the right action now, PATH and FLRF can dramatically improve infant survival for decades to come."
Dr. Katharina Lichtner, managing director of FLRF, adds: "The role of human milk in improving child survival is proven, sustainable, and supported by top health leaders. This bold effort will help create the cultural and structural shifts necessary to harness that potential and turn the tide on preventable child death."
The Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation is the first foundation in the world with a prime focus on promoting and supporting human milk nutrition and breastfeeding. Based in Zug/Switzerland, it was founded in 2013 with the aim to promote the scientific and public recognition of human milk as—given the current state of science—the best nutrition for newborns and infants. It considers itself as an instigator and promoter of new knowledge about human milk nutrition and breastfeeding. The Foundation invests globally in projects and scientific activities in human milk research and breastfeeding promotion. It places high value on interdisciplinary and sustainable impact for the well-being of mother and child. Learn more at www.larsson-rosenquist.org.
PATH increases access to human milk from every angle. We work closely with governments and health leaders to strengthen health systems' ability to integrate human milk banking into standard newborn care. We improve technologies for quality control systems, such as a cell phone–based milk pasteurization system for use in low-resource settings. In addition, we expand global advocacy, awareness, and communication around the importance of breastfeeding and human milk banking. Our partnerships are increasing access to human milk in India, Kenya, South Africa, and other countries.
Most recently, PATH supported the government of Vietnam to open the country's first human milk bank and ensure that it follows global best practices.