Celebrating World Breastmilk Donation Day: A Vital Initiative to Combat Infant Mortality

Posted on May 19, 2024

The South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR), in partnership with the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pretoria hosted a special event in anticipation of International Breastmilk Donation Day - globally recognised on May 19. This event highlighted the critical, life-saving role of breastmilk donation, particularly for the most vulnerable in society: premature and critically ill infants.

Breastmilk is recognised as a unique medical intervention that has significant health benefits, not only nourishing but also protecting infants against a myriad of health conditions. "Breastmilk is a vital source of nutrition and also serves as a first line of medicinal aid for newborns," says Stasa Jordan, Executive Director of SABR. Studies show that breastmilk has dynamic bioactive components that can significantly reduce infant mortality from conditions like Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a serious gastrointestinal problem predominantly seen in premature infants.

This year's theme emphasizes the pivotal role that breastfeeding and human milk banking serve in public health interventions aimed at reducing infant mortality rates. In South Africa, these efforts are critically important as the country battles high rates of maternal health issues including HIV, hypertension, and malnutrition, which profoundly impact infant survival and health.

The collaboration between SABR and the University of Pretoria has facilitated ground-breaking research into the pharmacokinetics of medications like Sulpiride when passed through breastmilk, crucial for understanding its impacts on infants. "By establishing a research-dedicated freezer at the University, we aim to expand our knowledge on how various medications can affect breastfed babies, ensuring that our interventions remain both safe and effective," says Professor Natalie Schellack, Head of the Department Pharmacology. 

To mark this significant day, the School of Health Sciences will host an information stall from 9 AM to 12 PM in the courtyard, aimed at educating future healthcare professionals about the critical role of human milk banking.

The World Health Organization notes that nearly 1 million infant lives could be saved annually through optimal breastfeeding practices. This is particularly relevant under UN resolution 25, which highlights the importance of breastfeeding promotion in developing countries where breastfeeding becomes not just a nutritional but also a food security issue during crises. ‘’Sensitizing student health care professionals to the lifesaving value of breastfeeding is the first step towards saving lives at the beginning of the life cycle’’ says Professor Natalie Schellack. 

The SABR's efforts extend beyond just collection and distribution. Their So Safe breastmilk pasteurizer, a result of local innovation, ensures that donated breastmilk retains its quality while being safe for infant consumption. This technology is crucial in making human milk banking accessible and sustainable, especially in low-income settings.

As we observe International Breastmilk Donation Day, SABR and its partners reaffirm their commitment to improving the health outcomes of South Africa's newborns through research, technology, and the life-giving benefits of donated breastmilk.

For more information, to participate in milk donation, or to support our cause, please visit https://www.sabr.org.za/ 

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