From the blog

UGANDA: Breastmilk Donation Helps Guarantee Survival Of Sick Newborns

A growing community of breast milk donors in Uganda under the ATTA Breastmilk Community in Kampala is giving hope to mothers.

ATTA Breastmilk Community was launched in 2021 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, by a woman who had struggled like Ikendi without getting support. The registered nonprofit, backed by grants from organizations and individuals, is the only group outside a hospital setting in Uganda that conserves breast milk in substantial amounts.

Caroline Ikendi was in distress after undergoing an emergency Caesarean section to remove a stillborn baby and save two others. Doctors said one of the preterm babies had a 2% chance of living. If the babies didn’t get breast milk — which she didn’t have — Ikendi could lose them as well.

Thus began a desperate search for breast milk donors. She was lucky with a neighbour, a woman with a newborn baby to feed who was willing to donate a few millilitres at a time.

The neighbour helped until Ikendi heard about a Ugandan group that collects breast milk and donates it to mothers like her. Soon the ATTA Breastmilk Community was giving the breast milk she needed, free of charge, until her babies were strong enough to be discharged from hospital.

ATTA, as the group is known, receives calls for support from hospitals and homes with babies born too soon or too sick to latch onto their mothers’ breasts.

More than 200 mothers have donated breast milk to support over 450 babies since July 2021, with over 600 litres of milk delivered for babies in that period, according to ATTA’s records.

In a measure of efforts to build a reliable community, many donors have given multiple times while others help to find new ones, said ATTA administrator Racheal Akugizibwe.

“We are an emergency fix,” Akugizibwe said. “As the mother is working on their own production, we are giving (her) milk. But we do it under the directive and under the support of a lactation specialist and the medical people.”

She added: “Every mother who has given us milk, they are kind of attached to us. They are we; we are them. That’s what makes it a community.”

ATTA makes calls for donors via social media apps like Instagram. Women who want to donate must provide samples for testing, including for HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and there are formal conversations during which ATTA tries to learn more about potential donors and motivations. Those who pass the screening are given storage bags and instructed in safe handling.

In the beginning, ATTA would match a donor to a recipient, but it proved unsustainable because of the pressure it put on donors. ATTA then started collecting and storing breast milk, and donors and recipients don’t know each other.

With motorcycle couriers on Kampala’s busy streets, breast milk from donors is taken to ATTA’s storage and delivered to parents in need.

ATTA’s goal is to set up a full-fledged breast milk bank with the ability to pasteurize. The service is necessary in a country where an unknown number of women suffer for lack of lactation support, said Dr. Doreen Mazakpwe, a lactation specialist who collaborates with ATTA.

Akugizibwe said their work is challenging in a socially conservative society where such a pioneering service raises eyebrows. Questions, even from recipients, include fears that babies who drink donated breast milk might inherit the bad habits of their benefactors.