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Saturday July 20, 2024

Sindh to continue with human milk bank project, PA told

By Our Correspondent
June 26, 2024
Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho speaks during a meeting. — Screengrab via X/@AzraPechuho/File
Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho speaks during a meeting. — Screengrab via X/@AzraPechuho/File

Notwithstanding criticism from religious circles, the Sindh government has expressed its firm intention to continue with its newly launched human milk bank project to save the lives of premature babies who, owing to weakness and medical complications, cannot consume cattle, powdered, or formula milk.

Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho expressed her resolve to this effect while taking part in the ongoing general discussion in the Sindh Assembly on the newly presented provincial government’s budget on Tuesday.

A few days back, the Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology had announced the suspension of its newly launched human milk bank project, the first-of-its-kind healthcare initiative in Pakistan aimed at securing lives of premature babies, after the issuance of an adverse religious edict.

The health minister told the house that due precautions would be taken with the human milk bank project coming into operation again to prevent marriages between a foster brother and a sister in future who shared the milk from the same mother as per the teachings of Islam. She said such precautions included developing a proper database of the mothers donating their milk to this project.

The proposed database would include the Computerised National Identity Card numbers, addresses, and other personal details of mothers who donate their milk.

Dr Pechuho told the house that such data would remain with the managers of the human milk bank project and could also be provided to the National Database and Registration Authority so that the parents of a beneficiary baby of this project would remain informed about his or her foster family.

She maintained that the chances that any beneficiary child of this project would marry his or her foster sibling in future were already minimal given the vast population in the country. She said a newly born child receiving milk from another woman to fulfil his or her nutritional requirements is very much as per the teachings of Islam. The health minister said it was a pitiful situation that in old times newborns had been provided milk from other women to ensure their survival, whereas in the present times, such a tradition couldn’t be practised to save the lives of babies born with health complications.

She said the Sindh government had approached the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), urging the CII to issue an edict in favour of the human milk project. “But why should we wait for an edict to launch an initiative duly sanctioned by Islam?” she asked.

In her speech in the house, Dr Pechuho conceded that there is a need to uplift the public healthcare facilities in the province. She clarified that Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant and the Gambat Institute of Medical Sciences were not non-governmental organisations but autonomous health facilities. She said the government conducted a proper audit of the grants provided to such autonomous healthcare facilities and also kept a check on the spending of public money by them. She, however, maintained that there was no harm in extending government grants to NGOs in the health sector showing better performance.

Also speaking in the house, Education Minister Syed Sardar Ali Shah said the new provincial budget had allocated Rs 414 billion for the education sector. He told the house that some 5.2 million children in Sindh were enrolled in government-run schools while private educational institutions had been imparting education to four million students.

He said the government spent around Rs79,000 on each student enrolled in the government schools annually. He said the restoration of the infrastructure of the educational facilities damaged due to floods and rains was a major challenge for the Sindh government.

He said the government had resorted 5,000 such damaged schools. He complained that the federal government hadn’t provided a single rupee for the reconstruction of the damaged schools. He said the incumbent Federal education minister belongs to Sindh so he should better talk to the federal government on this issue.