First Human Milk Bank Opened in Croatia

By 15 November 2019

ZAGREB, November 15, 2019 - The first human milk bank was opened at Zagreb's Women's Hospital on Friday, its purpose being to provide milk donated by nursing mothers to prematurely born and seriously ill infants.

Around 2,000 children are born prematurely in Croatia every year, and around 400 need intensive health care to survive. Mother's milk has proven to be beneficial for infants owing to its unique nutritional and immunological characteristics and the milk from the bank will be given to the most vulnerable groups of babies to provide them with the best possible care and improve their chances of survival, experts said at the opening of the bank.

It is estimated that feeding the most vulnerable infants - those weighing less than 1,500 grams - requires collecting around 100,000 litres of human milk across the country. In time the bank aims to meet the demand for human milk at the level of the entire country.

Before it is used, the donated milk will have to pass the necessary checks to prove it is fit for consumption and the donors will be tested for infectious and other diseases.

For the time being, milk will be collected from women whose children are under the age of one, and all potential donors may contact the human milk bank on their own.

The bank is part of the Croatian Tissue and Cell Bank and it also includes a breastfeeding centre.

UNICEF Croatia Office head Regina M. Castillo said that thanks to donors, UNICEF had helped equip the human milk bank with equipment for the processing and storage of milk and provided for the education of health workers, and that it was currently purchasing a vehicle for the collection and distribution of donated milk.

She said that Croatia had one of the highest breastfeeding rates in Europe and the rest of the world.

The total value of the project is eight million kuna, of which five million was provided by the Health Ministry to furnish the bank's offices while UNICEF gave 3.4 million to buy the equipment. That amount includes 1.2 million bequeathed by doctor Heda Dubac Šohaj, it was said.

Having a human milk bank provides for the early development and health of children whose mothers cannot breastfeed, Health Minister Milan Kujundžić said, adding that Croatia was trying to catch up with more developed countries also in that segment of health care.

There are 239 human milk banks in Europe today. Of Croatia's neighbours, Italy has the largest number (37), Hungary has eight, and Serbia has three. Work is currently under way in Slovenia to open the first such bank.

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