Thursday

Thinking of Haiti: raising donations of human milk


Haiti is in the hearts and minds of many people around the world. We want to help. We see the wounded on our screens, the haunting pictures of the babies and children. We see a city in ruins and we cry for them. We want to do something to help. But what do we do? We donate to worthy organizations who have experience in working in disasters. If we are breastfeeding advocates, we look for organizations that will work to preserve breastfeeding. Disasters often become the dumping grounds for infant formula and for food commodities that are inappropriate for the community (for example dairy foods in African nations where the people are lactose intolerant). Think of the difficulties of infant formula if you have no electricity, no running water, no fuel, no medical backup (because infants on formula have higher morbidity and mortality rates than breastfed infants).
It was with great interest that I have been reading on the web that human milk banks (HMBANA-Human Milk Banking Association of North America and the IBMP-Internationl Breast Milk Project, who is partnered with Prolacta) are asking breastfeeding moms to donate their milk for Haiti. Or should I say that the headlines say donations are for Haiti. But after reading what the IBMP says at their website, the reader realizes that the donations won't be going to Haiti right away because there is no infrastructure to handle the donations (frozen milk is a little difficult in places where there is no electricity). Hm......I am getting the impression that basically this is a PR presentation and not very carefully thought out. A call for donations based on a disaster when there is no immediate plan or plans to take those donations to Hait seems to me to be unethical. I can't think of a kinder way to put it. Even if the intention is based on doing good, it has no basis in immediate reality. And this PR stunt gets even murkier when it is one organization, the IBMP, saying that another non-profit, HMBANA is actually going to do this but of course the IBMP wants donations, too. And the shadows get even deeper, when you read the IBMP website under history and find that the IBMP is partnered with Prolacta (who is now partnered with Abbott). Although, the IBMP in regard to collecting for Haiti states they are not involved with Prolacta. Not sure what that means--no longer, at all, involved with Prolacta? Yet, the IBMP has on their advisory board a David Rechtmann, who is the Chief Medical Officer of Prolacta. What is really going on? It's so convoluted and strange that one tends to think that something is incredibly wrong. Or is this just a case of people not thinking it through, not understanding how this appears to the outside world?
The priority in all disasters, particularly Haiti, should be to support and protect breastfeeding. Human milk feeding could be the next choice once the infrastructure is in place(in Haiti--the infrastructure has always been questionable). But like infant formula, it too should be carefully distributed in order that it not displace breastfeeding.
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

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