IFFPhoto: IFF/FiocruzThe Fernandes Figueira National Health Institute for Women, Children, and Adolescents (IFF/FIOCRUZ) welcomed a delegation from El Salvador this August. The main purpose of the visit to the Institute, headquarters of the Global Reference Center of the Network of Human Milk Banks was to provide technical assistance in the planning and evaluation of the work done by the Salvadoran Network of Human Milk Banks.

“It is a huge pleasure for us to welcome the team from El Salvador and to have the opportunity to witness the strides made by their national network based on collaboration with our Human Milk Bank. These activities are of the utmost interest to the Brazilian government, FIOCRUZ, and IFF. We are always willing to collaborate in any way we can,” said IFF Director Fábio Russomano at the reception for the Salvadoran delegation.

Magdalena Martínez, coordinator of the Salvadoran Network of Human Milk Banks, Miriam Alvarado, technical director of the Human Milk Bank in San Miguel, and Jorge Melendez, coordinator of the Human Milk Collection Stations in San Salvador, had firsthand contact with the work processes that made Brazil a world reference in policies to support, protect, and promote breastfeeding. “Direct experiences are one of the most important parts of exchange. It’s an enriching opportunity to be here today, because it allows us to share something that we would not achieve by reading, or even by participating in a congress on the subject. Based on this exchange, we can take advantage of the lessons learned and follow the path created by the Brazilian network,” said Melendez.

Five years since the creation of the first Human Milk Bank in the Raul Arguello Escolán Maternity Hospital, the Salvadoran Network of Human Milk Banks now has two more banks and 39 collection stations. Eighty-five thousand women have already benefited from orientation on breastfeeding and answers to their questions on human milk donation. More than 2,400 newborns have benefited from the solidarity of approximately 35 thousand human milk donors. According to João Aprigio Guerra de Almeida, Coordinator of the Brazilian Network of Human Milk Banks, the Salvadoran Network has made huge strides since 2012. “We’re proud to see the growth and commitment in El Salvador,” he commented.

João Aprigio also highlighted the importance of quality certification: “Quality is the basic pillar of all our work. All the premature infants that have benefited from donated human milk, regardless of their country of birth, are part of the Network of Human Milk Banks. All the processes should comply with the same standards. Training human resources and controlling indicators through the information system are thus crucial factors. The quality certification process should thus be designed with political, financial, and technical sustainability.”

“We are a Network. If one fails, everyone fails. Over the course of this week, we have identified issues in our annual plan that we can improve. The tools presented to us will be highly useful for designing new strategies,” said Miriam Alvarado. “In places with more Human Milk Collection Stations, we have reached exclusive breastfeeding rates on the order of 60-65%. Quality processes in these stations are essential. After all, what good is having a lot of human milk collected if half of it goes to waste due to non-compliance issues? We are really enthused about the possibility of global certification for Human Milk Banks,” Jorge Melendez added. 

The meetings, presentations, and guided tours to the Reference Center’s installations helped draft a three-pronged action plan based on management, monitoring, and evaluation. “With the tools presented to us, we can improve some very important points for our network’s growth. We leave here with the challenge of reinforcing our technicians’ skills and working for the quality certification of our Human Milk Banks, which is our next step in international cooperation. We are going home with several ideas to continue this work,” concluded Magdalena Martínez, Coordinator of the Salvadoran Network of Human Milk Banks.

The Network of Human Milk Banks and FIOTEC

When the National Network of Human Milk Banks was created in 1998, a partnership was established with FIOTEC, at the time the Foundation for Teaching, Research, Technological Development, and Cooperation in the National School of Public Health (Fensptec). FIOTEC has supported the network’s projects since then. This partnership was one of the features in the news story in the bulletin Conexão Fiotec-Fiocruz. Check out the full story.

Source: Aline Câmera (IFF/FIOCRUZ), with collaboration by Alejandro Rabuffetti (ICICT/FIOCRUZ) and Virginia Gonzalez (IFF/FIOCRUZ).