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Wednesday July 17, 2024

Pakistan’s first Human Milk Bank ‘suspended’ over religious concerns

The Human Milk Bank was established after seeking and receiving a fatwa from Darul Uloom Karachi

By M. Waqar Bhatti
June 22, 2024
The building of the Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) in Karachi. — SICHN website
The building of the Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) in Karachi. — SICHN website

KARACHI: Following a recent religious edict (fatwa), the Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) in Karachi announced on Friday the suspension of its ‘Human Milk Bank’ and referred the matter to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for further guidance.

“The Human Milk Bank was established after seeking and receiving a fatwa from Darul Uloom Karachi, which provided us with the necessary religious endorsement to proceed. However, a recent revised fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Karachi dated June 16, 2024 has prompted us to discontinue the functionality of the Human Milk Bank,” an official of the SICHN told The News.

The official, who requested anonymity, added that in addition to Council of Islamic Ideology, they will seek further guidance from Darul Uloom Karachi. On the issue of Human Milk Bank. These esteemed institutions are pillars of religious scholarship, and their insights will be invaluable in navigating this complex issue, he added.

Pakistan’s first Shariah-compliant Human Milk Bank and Early Childhood Center at SICHN was inaugurated by Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho, along with officials from UNICEF and the Pakistan Pediatric Association (PPA), a few weeks ago. It was intended to provide breast milk to premature babies who could not receive the required nutrition from their mothers.

SICHN also issued a statement on Friday, in both English and Urdu, announcing the suspension of the Human Milk Bank initiative and included the fatwas it had sought from religious scholars and Madaris regarding the establishment of the milk bank.

“At SICHN, our commitment to improving child health and neonatal care has been a driving force behind our initiatives, including the establishment of the Human Milk Bank. We understand and respect the religious and cultural sensitivities surrounding such initiatives and have always strived to align our efforts with Islamic principles and values,” the statement said.

The statement clarified that the Human Milk Bank was initially established after obtaining a fatwa from Darul Uloom Karachi, ensuring that the efforts were in harmony with Islamic teachings and reassuring the community and stakeholders involved. Details of the fatwa, issued on December 25, 2023, were provided in the statement.

Highlighting the need for the milk bank, the statement noted that babies born prematurely, particularly those below 34 weeks of gestation or less than 2 kg in weight, often do not have sufficient breast milk to support their nutrition. Using milk other than breast milk exposes them to the risk of complications, infections, and early death.

“Therefore, to save the lives of these very premature newborns, it is necessary to provide them with breast milk,” the statement added.

The initial fatwa included pre-conditions for establishing the milk bank, such as maintaining and sharing complete data of women contributing to a ‘lot’ of milk with the mothers of the babies receiving the milk to ensure kinship records, providing the service free of cost, and only giving milk from Muslim mothers to Muslim children. It also emphasized that the milk should be clean, free from bacteria, and come from healthy mothers, and that the service should be monitored with a database.

The statement explained that all the above points were considered when establishing the milk bank. However, the recent revised fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Karachi on June 16, 2024 prompted the suspension of the Human Milk Bank.

This decision complies with the updated religious guidance and reflects SICHN’s ongoing commitment to operating within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence.

“We are dedicated to ensuring that our healthcare initiatives are not only scientifically sound but also religiously compliant. We appreciate the understanding and patience of our community as we work through this important issue. Our primary goal remains the health and well-being of children, and we are committed to finding solutions that honor both our medical and religious responsibilities,” the statement maintained.