Remember how I talked incessantly about the International Breast Milk Project? And then I talked some more? Well, I’m not done talking.
Here’s the summary of what I’m about to say: the 55,000 ounces of breast milk the IBMP promised to send to Africa? They haven’t been sent yet.
Want to know how I know?
It all started when a reader commented on my blog. MaryJaneLouise wrote:
From the IBMP’s website:“To date, we have collected nearly 55,000 ounces of breast milk.”
Sounds impressive, no? Well, divide by 25 ounces (low average daily consumption for a baby) and you get 2,200 baby-days of feeding. Still impressive. Divide by 365 days in a year, and you get…….. 6. 6 baby-years worth of donations.
Her math was right (except that she had to divide by six again because there are six children in the orphanage, which would have resulted in one year’s worth of donations), so, intrigued, I did a few calculations of my own using what I knew at the time. I answered her comment with this one:
That’s interesting… When I called iThemba Lethu, the director of the milk bank, Penny Reimers, told me that a shipment from Prolacta lasted them about four months. She said the last shipment was the 55,000 ounce one, and she also mentioned that it took four months to finish it even including the South African milk donations…She told me each child drank about a liter of milk a day, so roughly 34 ounces each child/day. Multiply by six and you get 204 ounces per day consumed by the whole orphanage. Take 55,000 ounces, divide by 204 ounces/day and you get 269 days, which is almost nine months.I don’t see how they could drink 55,000 ounces in four months, especially with the extra donations coming from their local bank. I didn’t think much of it until you mentioned this. Maybe she estimated wrong and each child is drinking two liters a day instead of one? Then the numbers she gave me would make sense. Still, that’s an awful lot of milk for one baby to be drinking.
Something’s not adding up… Maybe some of the milk is being stolen?
Also, Mary Jane, Prolacta’s last shipment of 55,000 ounces was a lot but it’s an anomaly. On the IBMP page, they mention that their next shipment will be 5300 ounces in late April: http://www.breastmilkproject.org/about_us.php. Late April has come and gone and that shipment hasn’t gotten there yet, at least according to the director of the iThemba Lethu milk bank (I called very early this morning to interview her). Anyway, if iThemba Lethu goes through 55,000 ounces in four months for six kids, then 5300 ounces will last them about a tenth as long.
None of this is to take away from the fact that Penny Reimers expressed nothing but complete gratitude toward Jill Youse and Prolacta, as I would if I were in her situation. However: everything I’ve written, I stand by.
I was not satisfied with this, though. I wanted to know why there was such a large discrepancy between what was reported and what I had calculated.
So I called South Africa again, this morning. Penny Reimers, director of the iThemba Lethu milk bank, is the person I spoke to. She is a very kind and gentle soul and had nothing but positive things to say about the project. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to her, and I have nothing but admiration for the work she does in the iThemba Lethu milk bank and with the kids in her care.
Here’s what I learned from our conversation:
- iThemba Lethu has received a total of four shipments, including the one Jill Youse sent to Africa with Penny’s husband while he was on a business trip to the U.S.A. This first shipment was raw breast milk which the iThemba Lethu milk bank pasteurized in-house.
- In our last conversation, she’d told me the last shipment she got was the 55,000 ounce one, but she told me now she must have been mistaken because she doesn’t think in ounces. She thinks in liters. She was confused, checked her records and found out that actually the last shipment arrived on Mother’s Day, May 18th, and that it had 5,343 oz in it. This was the purported April 2006 shipment the IBMP talks about on its About page. So it had arrived! Good.
- She said this shipment of 5,343 ounces was so massive that she thought it was 55,000 ounces. Her words, “It filled three freezers-worth completely.”
- When I asked her how many freezers-worth the other two shipments from Prolacta filled, she said it was less, that it was more like two freezers-worth and change. In other words, the other two shipments were less than 5,343 ounces.
This explains the discrepancy. This explains why it is that such a small orphanage can go through the donated milk so quickly even when adding in the local donations. She clarified this for me and said each shipment lasted about 3-4 months’ worth, including local donations, and that not every child gets fed breast milk. It sounds like she’s managing her milk bank very efficiently, without much waste. The milk would be consumed faster if she fed every child milk, which she does not because she needs to ration it for the very needy cases.
Since the IBMP made their promise to send 55,000 ounces of donated breast milk, they have sent the one shipment of 5,343 ounces in May 2007. Their rate of shipments to Africa is about two shipments a year so far.
Why is it important to know all of this? Because the International Breast Milk Project got 55,000 ounces of donated milk because of Oprah. On Oprah’s show, it was stated that the donated milk would go to Africa, not 25% of it. The IBMP promised that all those 55,000 ounces would be sent to Africa, and that thereafter, 25% of what is donated would be sent. At the current rate and quantity that the IBMP is sending milk (an average of two shipments a year), it would take almost five years to send the originally promised 55,000 ounces to Africa. I don’t know if pasteurized frozen milk can sit for that long in a freezer without becoming freezer-burned, but I’m guessing no. One year, maybe. Five? No. I’m also guessing they’re not going to pro-rate the milk they receive after May 31, 2007 to make sure all 25% of what’s donated gets to Africa like they promised. This gives them a five year gap of slop which seems a little bit excessive to me.
From IBMP’s FAQ page (emphasis mine):
Will all of my milk be sent to Africa?
o Although our objective was to collect and send 10,000 ounces of milk, we had an unexpectedly incredible and overwhelming response: 55,000 ounces were collected through May 31, 2007. All 55,000 ounces of this breast milk collected through May 31, 2007 will be shipped to Africa for babies orphaned by HIV.
This is either a bald-faced LIE, or the milk the orphans will be getting will be very old by the time it arrives. The only other way their statement could remain true is if the IBMP either steps up its shipment frequency or shipment amount, by a lot. Keep in mind that any donation made now to the IBMP will be 75% straight to Prolacta and only 25% to Africa. Though by the looks of things, I don’t see how they’re going to ship all 55,000 ounces to Africa by the time one year is up. I think what they’re expecting is that people will forget all of this and assume all the 55,000 ounces have been donated. They haven’t been. I give the IBMP until May 31, 2008 to see if all 55,000 ounces have been donated. They’ve got plenty of time. We’ll see if it happens. Even so, it gives them a year’s head-start, in which they could collect 100% of all donations and keep them for Prolacta, and no one would ever be the wiser. Do the math yourself and see what you come up with. (Edited 7/26/2007)
I asked Penny Reimers if I could donate milk directly to iThemba Lethu instead of through the International Breast Milk Project, and she said that if I wanted to, I was certainly welcome to. If you want to donate milk to the iThemba Lethu breast milk bank directly, and you have the means, do so. Then you’ll know for certain all your milk will be used for at least one of the six orphans in iThemba Lethu. They have pasteurization capabilities in-house, so you can send the milk raw, as long as it is frozen when it arrives. Penny mentioned that DHL and FedEx and another courier donated their shipping services. Perhaps if you ask them, they’ll foot the bill for your personal donation as well.
If you are reading this in South Africa and have a stash of breast milk to donate, please consider donating to the iThemba Lethu milk bank. All local donations (given in South Africa directly to iThemba Lethu and not through IBMP) will go to help at least one of the six orphans at iThemba Lethu, and it will help keep your milk bank strong.
Personally, I’m a big advocate of local donation, wherever you are. On my links page is a plethora of articles and pages about milk banks around the world. If you are in North America, please remember that donating to a HMBANA milk bank is the only way you can be sure your milk will be distributed for no more than it costs to process it. As always, MilkShare is another option for those of you who would prefer to meet your recipients through informal milk donation. But make sure you meet them, because you never know where Prolacta might be hiding.