Through our Maternal and Newborn Improvement project in Kenya we lead the County Innovation Challenge Fund (CICF), investing in local projects that offer life-saving solutions for mothers and newborns. The fund supports scaling up successful innovations that have demonstrated a clear positive impact in reducing maternal and newborn mortality. It operates in six counties across the country; Bungoma, Garissa, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Turkana, and Embakasi and Kamukunji in Nairobi.
One of these innovative projects is a human milk bank.
An estimated 40,000 infants die in Kenya each year during their first month of life, and breastfeeding is recognised as the single most important intervention available to prevent child deaths. When breastfeeding is not an option, the World Health Organization recommends donated human milk as a lifesaving alternative for vulnerable infants: babies who may be orphaned, pre-term, low birth weight, severely malnourished, unable to suckle, or whose mothers are too sick to breastfeed.
Human milk banks are well established in high income countries, and have been proven to work in some low and middle income contexts such as Brazil and South Africa. In Kenya however, this solution has never been tried.
The project team and Kenya’s national government have done a lot lay the foundation for human milk banking in Kenya.
Formative research was conducted in Nairobi in late 2016 to assess perceptions and attitudes towards human milk banking. 71 participants were interviewed, including mothers, religious leaders, health workers, and other stakeholders. Data from the deliveries of over 900 babies was also analysed to identify relevant trends.
In March, a team of government officials from Kenya travelled to South Africa for an exchange visit, where they learned about South Africa’s progress with human milk banking and brought home lessons for application in Kenya.
In June, the Ministry of Health hosted a national dissemination meeting to share the findings of the study. The findings indicate a lack of general knowledge about human milk banking in Kenya, but also show that the majority (90%) of women interviewed were positive about the idea. Policy makers and health workers were strongly in favour of piloting this approach to save newborn lives.
A team is currently working on drafting national guidelines for human milk banking in the country, which will be combined with a costed work plan to guide budgeting.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed by the local media. Read and watch more about the potential for human milk banking in Kenya, as seen in the press:
Daily Nation: www.nation.co.ke/health/3476990-3988026-hrb6muz/index.html
Citizen TV: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeyrKDo0pq8
This project is funded by UKAid from the UK government under the County Innovation Challenge Fund (CICF). The CICF invests in innovative interventions, products, processes, services, technologies and ideas that will reduce maternal and newborn mortality in Kenya, and is managed by Options and KPMG.