Rotary gifts a human milk bank in Aurangabad & Tirupati

When Amrut Dhara, a global grant project conceived and executed by members of RC Aurangabad West, RID 3132, to set up a modern, well-equipped human milk bank, was finally inaugurated at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar Government Medical College and Hospital in the city, it proved the tenacity of this bunch of Rotarians led by the club’s past ­president Hemant Landge. The project proposal had come to the club way back in 2018. Putting together a huge sum of $58,000 required, and then navigating through the challenges of the unprecedented Covid pandemic, during which medical services were not only overstretched but their priorities had also shifted, were no mean tasks. But team Amrut Dhara, led by project chair Landge, stayed focused on what they had to do to see this work through.

DG Swati Herkal with project chair Hemant Landge after inaugurating the human milk bank at the Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar Government Medical College and Hospital, Aurangabad.

Tracing its inception Landge says, “Everybody knows that mother’s milk is a boon to a newborn baby, and in ancient times this was the norm. But in so many cases an infant is deprived of its own ­mother’s milk and the next best is human milk that is securely collected and properly stored in a modern, well equipped milk bank in a hospital.”

In 2018, when Aurangabad’s famous child specialist Dr ­Rajendra Khadke approached their club through its then president Makarand Khadke, saying that the neonatal ICU of the hospital urgently required a human milk bank, as many premature babies and other infants with medical complications required breast milk, the Rotarians were immediately interested. Their community needs assessment done at this ICU gave them some vital statistics. In 2019, around 19,000 deliveries were performed at this government hospital — the number today is 21,000 deliveries a year — and of these nearly 4,000 infants ended up at the neonatal unit’s ICU after various medical complications and needed breast milk. Their mothers could either not feed these babies or the babies could not take the milk from their mothers, being very weak to do so.

In 2019, around 19,000 deliveries were performed at this government hospital — the number today is 21,000 deliveries a year — and of these nearly 4,000 infants ended up at the NICU after various medical complications and needed breast milk.

The doctors at this neonatal unit had no other option but to give these tiny and ailing infants either powder milk or other unsafe, unprocessed milk, posing a huge health risk to the babies. “To ensure safe and processed milk to such babies a human milk bank was required urgently. We understood that this hospital constantly required a large supply of human milk through a sophisticated and well-equipped human milk bank,” says Landge.

The Rotarians started getting quotations for the equipment required and estimated a total project cost of $58,000. The serving district governor provided $7,000 from the DDF and a hunt was next launched for an international partner. In 2015 the club had hosted a Rotary Friendship Exchange team, which was led by Madeline King from RC Calgary, Canada, RI District 5360. She was approached to partner with the Aurangabad club for this project, but this couldn’t be done as they had no funds. “But came the next Rotary year, and funds were then available. They themselves contacted us and agreed to contribute $10,000 for this project,” he adds.

RID 3191 DG Udaykumar Bhaskara (centre, in blue vest) at the inaugural of the Rotary Human Milk Bank set up by RC Tirupati at the Government Maternity Hospital, Tirupati.

An MoU was then signed with the government hospital; meanwhile one of the past presidents of the club got in touch with RC James River, Richmond, US, and the club agreed to contribute another $2,000. With local businessmen and industrialists agreeing to give ₹8 lakh, “we raised $36,340 and went in for a GG under the Rotary focus area of Maternal and Child Health and TRF sanctioned an amount of $21,660, with the application being approved rather quickly.”

But with Covid blues, “some of the funds were delayed, and when the two peaks of the pandemic hit India, this major government hospital in Aurangabad was under immense pressure to deal with Covid-related complications. We also lost a few near and dear ones during this period and the project planning and timeline collapsed completely.”

But then you can’t keep a good project down! Fortune smiled on this project with the neonatal ICU getting a Kangaroo Mother Care Ward sponsored through a CSR initiative. The Rotarians decided to put up their milk bank in this ward, and in September 2023, the project was inaugurated by RID 3132 DG Swati Herkal.

Last month, about three litres of human milk was collected and this can be stored for six months. The doctors have assured us that through this human milk bank child mortality rate of this region will be significantly reduced.
Hemant Landge
past president, RC Aurangabad West

Landge added that the Rotarians are carefully monitoring the working of this milk bank to ensure that this critical need of the community is being properly addressed. On how lactating mothers are motivated to donate milk, he says, “There is a set of very dedicated doctors working at the neonatal ICU in this hospital and they convince women who give birth here to donate milk. Last month, about three litres of human milk was collected, and this can be stored for six months. The doctors have assured us that through this human milk bank, newborn babies requiring critical medical care will get more effective treatment and results, and it will also significantly help to reduce the child mortality rate of this region.”

He thanked the project co-chair Dr Rupali Ashtaputre and HoD of the neonatal ICU Dr L S Deshmukh for the successful completion of the project.


A human milk bank in Tirupati

Yet another Rotary human milk bank was established in the southern region by the Rotary Club of ­Tirupati, RID 3191, at the Government Maternity Hospital in this temple city, where between 40 to 60 babies are delivered every month. It was inaugurated by the district governor Udaykumar Bhaskara, and “will go a long way in ensuring that so many infants who cannot get their mothers’ milk for various reasons, will get human milk from our milk bank, and go on to become healthy children,” said project chair T Damadaram.

Club president K V Phani Raja Kumar said this blood bank was made possible thanks to help from many individuals and organisations. Project co-chair Hemachander Magam said this milk bank, “the first-of-its-kind in Andhra Pradesh,” was established through a global grant of ₹35 lakh in partnership with RC Greentown, Malaysia, RID 3300.

This 104-member club, which has already put up a crematorium, “that cremated 2,386 persons during the Covid pandemic,” is next planning a palliative care unit for elderly people, “many of whom are left behind by their relatives to spend their last days in this temple city,” said Magam.

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