Breastfeeding is vital for child survival and development, and contributes to the socioeconomic growth of families, communities, and nations.
Just over two years after the first human milk bank (HMB) launched in Viet Nam, the second opened its doors on April 10 in Tu Du Hospital in Hồ Chí Minh City. The first HMB, opened in February 2017 in the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children, and has since provided about 4,000 liters of tested safe milk to more than 7,500 newborns, including 2,600 premature, low-birthweight, and sick babies. This success, and the growing demand in other parts of Viet Nam, led to the establishment of the HMB at Tu Du Hospital in partnership with the Maternal and Child Health Department of the Ministry of Health, Irish Aid, and Alive & Thrive (A&T).
With an annual birth rate of approximately 70,000, Tu Du is one of the largest maternity hospitals in Viet Nam. A destination for high-risk and complicated births, approximately 25 percent of all babies at Tu Du require special care in the neonatal pediatrics department. This new HMB will help to ensure that all newborns at the hospital, including the most vulnerable, have access to human milk.
Since 2014, Irish Aid has supported A&T's portfolio in Southeast Asia in creating an enabling and supportive environment for breastfeeding. The official launch was proceeded by pre-launch activities attended by Mr. HE Patrick O’Donovan, Minister of the State of Ireland. The Minister met with the first group of mothers donating human milk and initiated the pasteurization of the first donor milk, together with Tu Du Hospital, the Hồ Chí Minh City Department of Health, and A&T. As the Minister highlighted:
"More babies were born in Tu Du Hospital in 2017 than in the whole of Ireland. Many of [the babies born here] are premature or low birth weight and could be beneficiaries of the human milk bank. I am very impressed by the facility and procedure that the hospital put in place to make sure donating is convenient, and the milk is pasteurized to ensure its safety for children who are in need."
The launch activities at Tu Du served as the foundation for future collaborations on human milk banking in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. The Maternal and Child Health Department collaborated with A&T to organize a knowledge exchange workshop on establishing the two HMBs, and using the lessons learned from this experience to develop effective national guidelines. Participants included 40 representatives from 13 hospitals in 9 provinces of Viet Nam. Also, in parallel with this workshop, A&T and the Human Milk Bank Association of the Philippines hosted a consultation on the development of the first HMB network in the ASEAN region. The main objective of this network is to facilitate knowledge exchange and harmonize standards and procedures in line with international and regional best practices. The workshop was attended by 20 participants from China, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. A formal launch of the network will happen later this year.