Stories of Change - Nutrition & Medical Equipment for a Better Future

Silvia Maria España Garcia, Head of Nutrition at Totonicapán’s Departmental Hospital, gives a tour of the UNICEF certified Human Breast Milk Bank.

Silvia Maria España Garcia, Head of Nutrition at the Totonicapán Hospital, demonstrates the donated breast milk, kept frozen for use by hospitalized newborns.

Silvia Maria España Garcia, Head of Nutrition at the Totonicapán Hospital, demonstrates the donated breast milk, kept frozen for use by hospitalized newborns.

“Prior to the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) project we had a Human Breast Milk Bank, however, we lacked sufficient equipment to extract the milk available for donation and to distribute it to all of the hospital’s newborns.” Silvia explains. “We were able to provide approximately 33 newborns (per month) with breast milk but the supply wasn’t sufficient to provide for the 45-50 infants hospitalized each month.”

The Human Breast Milk Bank was previously unable to support the 45 newborns born monthly that required breast milk at Totonicapán’s Departmental Hospital

The Human Breast Milk Bank was previously unable to support the 45 newborns born monthly that required breast milk at Totonicapán’s Departmental Hospital

“There were many women who wanted to donate breast milk but we also didn’t have a way of maintaining the milk in cold storage areas like refrigerators and freezers.  We just didn’t have enough equipment to keep up with the potential supply of and demand for breast milk.”

According to the World Health Organization exclusive breastfeeding for infants during the first six months is an important measure to combat malnutrition and ensure infants receive the nutrients required for proper growth and development. Breast milk promotes sensory and cognitive development, protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases and helps for a quicker recovery during illness (WHO).

Before the initiation of Human Breast Milk Bank, the Totonicapán hospital saw 10 to 12 cases monthly of necrotizing enterocolitis, an inflammation that appears in newborns, especially premature infants, causing inflammation and destruction of the intestine.  This disease may be caused by prematurity, infection and the feeding of milk formulas.  After the Human Breast Milk Bank was installed and neonatal infants received breast milk instead of formula, the rate of necrotizing enterocolitis cases dropped to 2 or 3 per month.

“We have witnessed that the newborns that receive human breast milk have less episodes of diarrhea and infections and decreased infant mortality” says Silvia. “Newborns that receive human breast milk, on average, spend fewer days at the hospital than the babies who don’t receive human breast milk.  We have seen the advances made by providing human breast milk to newborn babies.”

 “Through the MNCH project we received a donation of equipment from Horizons, PIES and Global Affairs Canada.  Now we have excellent fridges, freezers and thermometers to maintain the breast milk at the correct temperature.  We also received milk extractors, breast milk pump backpacks and sterilizing equipment.”

Fridges and refrigerators donated to the Human Breast Milk Bank through the MNCH project.

Fridges and refrigerators donated to the Human Breast Milk Bank through the MNCH project.

Portable breast milk pump backpacks allow Silvia to travel to women’s homes to collect donations of breast milk for the hospitalized newborns.

Portable breast milk pump backpacks allow Silvia to travel to women’s homes to collect donations of breast milk for the hospitalized newborns.

“With this new equipment we can keep up with the demand for breast milk.  We have more back packs with breast milk pumps and we have equipment for pasteurization in the lab to maintain the quality of milk. All of this has helped immensely to increase the quantity of milk available. Previously we were able to collect 15-18 Litres of breast milk monthly.  Now we are able to collect 25 to 30 Litres!”

The Human Breast Milk Bank isn’t the only area of the Totonicapán hospital to benefit from the MNCH project.  The hospital has received more than $800,000 Canadian dollars in equipment, including: ventilators, incubators, monitors, ultrasound equipment, hospital beds, defibrillators and external maternal-fetal monitors, among others, to create brand new critical care units for obstetrical and neonatal/paediatric care.

The MNCH project donated one of only two pediatric ventilators in public hospitals in Guatemala as part of a new pediatric critical care unit.

The MNCH project donated one of only two pediatric ventilators in public hospitals in Guatemala as part of a new pediatric critical care unit.

Hospital beds and monitors donated by the MNCH project are equipping a new obstetric critical care unit - previously unavailable at the hospital.

Hospital beds and monitors donated by the MNCH project are equipping a new obstetric critical care unit - previously unavailable at the hospital.

Dr. Pablo Tovar, Head of Pediatrics, tells us “Previously without the proper equipment for critical care emergencies we were forced to transfer pregnant women to another hospital in the neighbouring province of Quetzaltenango, which led to high incidences of maternal and infant mortality. The new equipment donated by Horizons, PIES and Global Affairs is of high quality and advanced technology and is providing tremendous support to the people of Totonicapán.  It has had an immediate impact on saving the lives of premature and newborn infants. Without the new pediatric ventilator, some premature newborns would require manual respiration, increasing the risk of infant mortality. We are very grateful for this donation.”

Dr. Tovar says that the new equipment is directly saving the lives of newborns in Totonicapán.

Dr. Tovar says that the new equipment is directly saving the lives of newborns in Totonicapán.


We need your help. A direct donation to this project will ensure that this important work continues in Totonicapán, Guatemala.

Raul Scorza