Viet Nam's first human milk bank to serve as model for learning and replication across the country

April 12, 2017 by PATH

Human milk banks fill a vital nutritional gap for at-risk newborns without access to their own mother’s milk, but few exist across Southeast Asia. Viet Nam’s first human milk bank demonstrates the feasibility of establishing a facility of international standards in the region, and will serve as a model across the country and Southeast Asia

Kate Davidson | Media Relations |

Da Nang, Viet Nam, 12 April 2017—International and Vietnamese experts on breastfeeding, newborn care, and human milk banking met today in Da Nang, Viet Nam, to learn more about the establishment of the country's first human milk bank, located at the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children. The milk bank is supported by the Maternal and Child Health Department of the Viet Nam Ministry of Health, who provided leadership and direction; the Da Nang Department of Health, who provided human resources, facilities, and funding from local authorities; and the international nonprofit organizations PATH and FHI 360 (through the Alive & Thrive initiative), who provided technical assistance with funding from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At today's workshop, hospital staff shared initial achievements and challenges of the milk bank, and the role of early essential newborn care in ensuring that there are enough milk donors to feed all infants in need of donor human milk. The Maternal and Child Health Department of the Ministry of Health described its vision for replication and for establishing national and regional networks of human milk banks, including a forum to encourage knowledge exchange with existing milk banks in other ASEAN countries (e.g., Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand). The Da Nang government honored the project sponsors with certificates of appreciation for supporting the development and wellbeing of women and children in Da Nang and throughout Viet Nam. The workshop was attended by leaders and experts from the Ministry of Health, Da Nang Department of Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and international organizations. Recognizing the importance of human milk banking for newborn care, leaders from three national-level obstetrics and gynecology hospitals in Viet Nam also attended the event to gain insight on establishing human milk banks in their own facilities.

Since 2015, the Da Nang Department of Health and the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children have been working with PATH and Alive & Thrive to highlight the importance of human milk and the ability of human milk banks to offer a solution for optimal growth and development for at-risk children. As a result of this partnership, the first human milk bank of Viet Nam opened on February 6th, 2017. The hospital has trained health staff across departments to provide breastfeeding support for all mothers and infants to ensure that infants receive the best nutrition possible. Since opening, 136 at-risk babies have received milk from 46 donor mothers—who passed strict hygiene and safety testing—totaling 60L of donated human milk.

Studies have repeatedly shown that of all the known solutions to child mortality (22 of every 1,000 live births among children under 5 in Viet Nam), human milk has the greatest potential impact on child survival and development; it contains the key nutrients infants need to build strong immune systems, and is the best and easiest food for babies to digest. While all newborns can benefit from human milk, not all women are able to provide breastmilk for their babies; sometimes the mother is too ill or on medication incompatible with breastfeeding. For infants at greatest risk—pre-term, low weight, or orphaned—the World Health Organization recommends donated milk as the best alternative.

Dr. Nguyen Duc Vinh, Chief of the Maternal and Child Health Department at the Ministry of Health, commented: "The human milk bank in Da Nang is giving survival opportunities to at-risk children of Da Nang city. We hope the lessons and experience from this model will be applied in other locations in Viet Nam. The success of the human milk bank in Da Nang also shows the effective collaboration among government partners and international organizations like PATH and Alive & Thrive and the strong commitment and good will from the local authorities in improving healthcare and protection for its people in general and for mothers and children in particular. This success also demonstrates that the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children welcomes and effectively implements global initiatives in taking care of mothers' and children's health."

Dr. Ngo Kim Yen, Director of Da Nang Department of Health, shared: "In order to have a human milk bank with donated breastmilk, donors must go through a multi-step process, including recruitment, screening, and expression of breastmilk; the milk is then pasteurized, tested, stored, and distributed. The human milk bank represents more than the location where breastmilk is donated and received to save the lives of vulnerable children, but it also aims to raise awareness on the importance of breastfeeding and promote it in society. The rate of breastfeeding in Viet Nam in general, and in Da Nang in particular, should be increased to a level of importance equal with breastmilk ".

Mona Byrkit, Mekong regional director for PATH discussed the preliminary success of the human milk bank in Viet Nam: "It is very encouraging to see that 136 babies have already benefitted from the human milk bank in just three months, and that the culture of breastfeeding continues to be an integral part of hospital care. We're looking forward to continuing our support for the milk bank and seeing improvements in child nutrition in Viet Nam."

Roger Mathisen, program director of Alive & Thrive in Southeast Asia described one of the main learnings so far: "One of the key things we see in the development of the human milk bank here in Viet Nam is that it cannot operate alone–it must be integrated within a wider model of newborn care. 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 its success."

For more information about the human milk bank at the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children, including how to donate or receive milk, please visit or

Da Nang Department of Health

The Department of Health is an administrative agency under the direction and management of the People's Committee of Da Nang City and under the technical direction, guidance, inspection, and monitoring of the Ministry of Health. The Da Nang Department of Health is responsible for supporting the People's Committee of Da Nang City to provide preventative and curative healthcare. This includes preventive medicine, treatment of illnesses, rehabilitation, traditional medicine, food safety, regulation of medical equipment, population policies, and health insurance.

For more information about the Da Nang Department of Health, please visit

Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children

The Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children is a first-ranked hospital in the field of pediatrics and obstetrics with 900 planned beds and 1765 actual beds. The hospital is responsible for health care for the women and children of Da Nang city and neighboring provinces. The hospital has been designated one of three centers of excellence for early essential newborn care in Vietnam by the World Health Organization and the Maternal and Child Health Department in the Ministry of Health.

Each year, the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children welcomes 13,000–15,000 births. There are 350,000 physician visits and inpatient treatment cases each year, and the hospital receives over 30,000 women and more than 50,000 pediatric patients. The hospital's neonatal pediatrics department provides treatment for approximately 120 babies with low weight, premature birth, or illness every day, and is also a training center for neonatal care for many domestic and international hospitals. Providing the best health services for women and children is the main objective of the hospital, including breastfeeding promotion to help children have the perfect start at life and supporting women to prevent disease.

For more information about the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children, please visit

Alive & Thrive

Alive & Thrive is an initiative to save lives, prevent illness, and contribute to healthy growth and development through improved maternal nutrition, breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices. Good nutrition in the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy to two years of age, is critical to enable all children to lead healthier and more productive lives. Alive & Thrive is scaling up improved infant and young child feeding (IYCF) and maternal nutrition through large-scale programs in several countries in Asia and Africa and through strategic technical support and the dissemination of innovations, tools, and lessons learned worldwide. Alive & Thrive is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of Canada and Ireland, and managed by FHI 360. Find out more at