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Fiocruz celebrates eight decades of the Human Milk Bank


Ricardo Valverde (Fiocruz News Agency)


The Human Milk Bank (BLH, in the acronym in Portuguese) of the National Institute of Women, Children and Adolescents Health Fernandes Figueira (IFF/Fiocruz) opened, last Tuesday (10/3), an event celebrating the 80 years since its foundation and the State's 40 years of action in managing these spaces. The coordinator and founder of the Global Network of Human Milk Banks (rBLH), João Aprígio Guerra de Almeida, stated that the event is the first in a series that will culminate in the VII Brazilian Congress of Human Milk Banks and the IV International Technical Cooperation Forum on Human Milk Bank, in 2024. “These have been four decades of innovation, solidarity and excellence in human milk banks,” said Almeida, who in 2020 received the Dr. Lee Jong Wook Prize awarded annually by the World Health Organization (WHO) to individuals or institutions that have contributed to major advances in public health.

The event is the first in a series that will culminate in the VII Brazilian Congress of Human Milk Banks and the IV Forum for International Technical Cooperation in Human Milk Banking, in 2024 (photo: Bruno Guimarães, IFF/Fiocruz)

The Brazilian experience, led by IFF/Fiocruz, has become a world reference model and is the basis for the creation of similar programs in countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Iberian Peninsula, Africa and also in the Brics. “Human Milk Banks have been one of the most important strategic elements of state policy in favor of breastfeeding over the last few decades in Brazil. The BLH is the House of Breastfeeding”, noted Almeida.

The rBLH coordinator said that the Network has demonstrated great resilience during recent years, when facing difficult times for public health and science in the country. “The Network consists of people who have the same ideal and the same creed, which is the promotion of breastfeeding, originally in Brazil and now around the world”, he highlighted. He added that, in the coming weeks, the Network missions will be brought to countries such as Peru, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique and El Salvador.

The technical advisor for the Coordination of Children and Adolescents Health Care of the Ministry of Health, Renara Guedes, stated that BLHs are a public policy of immense importance in Brazil and the world, having saved many lives. “I can give a personal example, from my own story. I became a mother at 19 and donated five pots of milk a week. Years later, my fourth child was born prematurely and needed donated milk, which I obtained at BLH. And it saved my son. I have been on both sides and I say that it is extremely important for mothers to breastfeed and for others to donate.”

The director of the National School of Public Health (Ensp/Fiocruz), Marco Menezes, noted that he seeks to engage in deepening partnerships between the Network and public health schools across the country. He said that there are also inclusive initiatives, which benefit disabled mothers, need to be reinforced. The deputy director of Research at the Institute of Scientific and Technological Communication and Information in Health (Icict/Fiocruz), Mônica Magalhães, commented on the cooperation with the Network and recalled the professional training programs in the area.

The pediatrician and coordinator of the Breastfeeding Technical Area of the Rio de Janeiro State Health Department, Maria da Conceição Monteiro Salomão, reinforced the importance of public policies to promote, protect and support breastfeeding, explained the benefits of breastfeeding and its protective characteristics and classified milk as “white drops that bring color to lives”.

The deputy coordinator of Health Residencies of the Vice-Presidency of Education, Information and Communication (VPEIC/Fiocruz), Adriana Coser, spoke about breastfeeding and the generosity of donating human milk. Deeply moved, she said that she also needed a donation when she had a premature child. For the researcher Roberta Argento Goldstein from the area of Public Policies and Health Care Models of the Vice-Presidency of Research and Biological Collections (VPPCB/Fiocruz), the BLH Network is an example of welcoming and a successful public policy strategy in the field of breastfeeding, with a special focus on the vulnerable, and which has become a model for the world.

After the opening table, the session Stories and stories of moments that marked the trajectory of BLH-IFF took place (photo: Bruno Guimarães, IFF/Fiocruz)

The director of IFF/Fiocruz, Antonio Flavio Vitarelli Meirelles, highlighted that “speaking about the BLH is speaking about love. Breastfeeding and donation involve mothers, children, donors and health professionals, in a great gesture of generosity and fraternity”. He also highlighted “that the BLH Network is the largest diplomatic health action of the Brazilian government and is part of the concepts of South-South collaboration, cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries, the 2030 Agenda and the fight against hunger. To have a more equitable and inclusive SUS [Unified Health System], we need to further strengthen the Network. And it is essential to direct our attention to including parents in this movement and demanding that companies maintain dedicated spaces for workers who are breastfeeding.”

After the opening table, the session Stories and histories of moments that marked the trajectory of the BLH-IFF took place, which had the participation of Noêmia Rodrigues, Nancy Fagueiro, Marlene Roque, Angela Muniz, Franz Novak, Cecy Dunshee, Danielle Silva, Claudio Decaro, Alejandro Rabuffetti, Euclydes Arreguy, Mariana Simões, Jonas Borges da Silva and Antônio Vitarelli Meirelles, mediated by João Aprígio Guerra de Almeida. They recalled curious and fun stories that they experienced at BLH.

In the end, Almeida remembered the former president of Fiocruz, Sergio Arouca, the former director of the IFF, Paulo Roberto Boechat, and the researcher Rivaldo Venâncio, stating that the BLH owes a lot to them. He also introduced some of the new professionals who are part of the BLH team. Then, there were tributes to former and current professionals. The event continues this Wednesday (10/4).


The first Human Milk Bank in Brazil was implemented in October 1943, at the then National Child Care Institute, now the National Institute of Women, Children and Adolescents Health Fernandes Figueira (IFF/Fiocruz). The main objective was to collect and distribute human milk for cases considered special, such as premature birth, nutritional disorders and allergies to heterologous proteins. With the same perspective, five more units were implemented until the beginning of the 1980s. The trend of new units implemented remained constant between 1943 and 1979, averaging one unit opened per decade.

“However, throughout the 1980s, particularly from 1985 onwards, a great expansion was observed with 47 new services established which, added to the 56 units implemented in the 1990s, currently adds up to a total of 104 units in operation, according to an estimate presented at the 1st Brazilian Congress of Human Milk Banks, held in Brasília in July 1998”, highlighted João Aprígio Guerra de Almeida. The history of human milk banks in Brazil can be divided into two phases. The first began in 1943 with the implementation of BLH-IFF/Fiocruz, lasting until 1985, when a new model was created, which prevails to these days.

Human Milk Bank

The Human Milk Bank (BLH) is a health care service normally located within public hospitals to promote breastfeeding and carry out the collection, processing and quality control activities of donated human milk for subsequent distribution under doctor or nutritionist prescription, for babies whose mothers are not producing enough milk, according to the needs of the newborn.

Milk is especially important in cases of premature babies. The banks also have an adequate structure for storing donated breast milk, after processing; as well as carrying out research, education, information and advice on breastfeeding. Among the main impacts of breastfeeding for newborns are the reduction in neonatal mortality

and protection against various diseases, such as malnutrition, diarrhea and other diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

As a result of the Brazilian international technical cooperation, the Global Network of Human Milk Banks was created, recognized by the WHO and coordinated by Fiocruz.

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