'Mother and baby-friendly' Quezon City opens human milk bank

DONATE! Quezon City General Hospital Director Dr. Josephine Sabando shows the Share Card given to frequent breastmilk donors.

Photo from the Quezon City PIO

MANILA, Philippines – Are you in need of human breastmilk or have excess to donate?

Now you have more places to go to as Quezon City started the operation of its first human milk bank (QCHMB) this month.

The move is considered a vital component of the health policy on child and maternal program of the city hailed as a "mother-baby friendly" city since 1992. 

Located at the Quezon City General Hospital and Medical Center (QCGH), the bank aims to share human milk especially to mothers with premature or malnourished babies. 

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months does wonder to the health of a child, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Milk is seen as the best way to improve the health of children as it contains the necessary nutrients a body can absorb. By not consuming human milk in the first few months of infancy, a child becomes more prone to life-threatening diseases.

Dr Anthony Calibo of the Family Health Office of the Department of Health even calls breastmilk as the “cheapest medicine” available.

Unfortunately, only 34% of infants under 6 months are exclusively breastfed and only 34% continue with breastmilk until two years old, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef)'s 2014 State of the World’s Children report shows. This puts the country among the top nations with the most number of children not exclusively breastfed. (READ: What’s keeping the Philippines from exclusive breastfeeding?)

Support for babies

According to the 2014 Oplan Timbang (OPT) Plus results, Quezon City is the 10th LGU in Metro Manila with the most number of undernourished children under 6 years old. (READ: Where to find the highest number of undernourished children in NCR?)

The city also has almost 29,000 stunted children, or children too short for their age. The effects also extend to health and mental development. (READ: Why you should care about stunting)

Through the QCHMB, the LGU hopes to fix its nutrition problem by targeting the first 1,000 days of a child.

The road to the city’s first human milk bank, however, wasn’t easy, according to QCGHMC Officer-in-Charge Dr Josephine Sabando.

QC Mayor Herbert Bautista signed the QC Human Milk Bank Ordinance – filed by known health advocate 5th District Councilor Julienne Alyson Rae Medalla – in 2012. It took the team 3 years before the project was fully realized.

According to Dr Sabando, they also had to wait for the funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and train the staff who will take over the facility.

QC is the second LGU to operate its own human milk bank in the National Capital Region. Makati City started its own in 2013. (READ: Got milk? Makati says yes)

TSEK. The Department of Health promotes breastfeeding through its many campaigns.

Photo by George Moya/Rappler

Under the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009, government and private health institutions are required to set up milk banks.

In the Philippines, there are 4 milk banks operated by government hospitals: Philippine Children’s Medical Center, Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, Philippine General Hospital, and Zamboanga City Medical Center.

According to the ordinance behind the QCHMB, it shall operate on a non-profit basis and will “only require a minimal processing fee for screening and administrative costs.”

In the event of inability to pay, the ordinance also states that it should not be a reason for the “nonavailment of the milk for the patients in need.”

D  Sabando also emphasized the human milk donations will undergo “strict pasteurization” before distribution.

Help and promote the bank

Bautista stressed that the project is fueled by the continuing collaborative efforts between stakeholders such as the government and advocates. He urged the public to take part in saving the lives of infants and young children.

“Saving lives through breastfeeding is a very important investment in the future,” the mayor explained.

To effectively implement the policies and goals of the health facility, people are encouraged to help in 3 ways:

1. Donate breastmilk to the bank or to the 7 lying-in centers in the city:

 2. Be a benefactor by raising awareness on the goals of the QCHMB

 3. Be a volunteer by taking part in teaching mothers on the importance of breastfeeding and also by facilitating the pick-up of donated human milk from the lying-in centers

The QCHMB is located at the 2nd Road in the vicinity of the QC Hall. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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