October 27

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Field Trip to the EMBA Conference in Glasgow

Finally, the rainy season has started in Seattle after more than 2 months with mainly good weather and lots of sun. So I jump at the opportunity to sit down in the comfortable warmth of my fireplace and write about my attendance to the EMBA conference in Glasgow.

In my third month volunteering at PATH and busy with processes at human milk banks I had the great opportunity to attend a conference organized by the European Milk Bank Association (EMBA) in Glasgow, Scotland, the 5th and 6th of October. I was about to meet all the experts in human milk banking. My journey to that conference started already in the afternoon of October 2nd in Seattle meaning that with the time difference I arrived the following day in Glasgow. After the check-in at the Hotel I met with my two fellows from the human milk bank group at PATH, Seattle. I had almost no time for a rest because we had to head for an organized visit of the Human Milk Bank of Glasgow. This milk bank has opened in 2013 in the premises of the Royal Hospital For Children. Debbie, the coordinator of the milk bank (and secretary of EMBA), led us through the milk bank and explained us the whole milk banking process, starting from the screening of the donating mothers to the handling and processing of the donated milk until the delivery of the pasteurized milk to the babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) all over Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight (for me at any rate) was the visit of the laboratory where the milk is processed, that is thawed, pooled, filled, pasteurized, and frozen. Pasteurization is required to render the milk save for feeding, to destroy or inactivate potentially pathogenic microorganisms. Testing for the presence of residual bacteria in the pasteurized milk is performed in-house using dip slides and only samples that pass the test are eventually delivered to the NICUs. After the visit I had a late dinner with my colleagues before I went back to the Hotel to recover a bit from my jetlag.

The following day PATH had organized a pre-workshop with a smaller group of people involved in milk banking including people from PATH Geneva, India and Vietnam, and people from EMBA working groups. The main objective of this workshop was to bring different experts together with different backgrounds and experiences to discuss a range of quality control tools that are currently under development at PATH. During two main sessions the group split up in smaller working groups that then reunified to present the outcome of each group. The pre-workshop concluded with a discussion and a wrap-up of the different suggestions and outcomes. So far this was not so different from the way we do sometimes at GSK as it allows in a relatively short time gathering a multitude of information and ideas and transform them into concrete actions.

The same evening we were invited for a reception in the Glasgow City Chambers where we were welcomed by the mayor of Glasgow. Which was nice, with a very formal ceremony, speeches were held, but OMG, the building itself, the staircase in that building from late 1800, just astonishing, incredible and breathtaking. It seems that for the construction of this building more Carrara marble had been used than for St. Peter in Rome!

 

After the reception we went with a larger group of people that have arrived for the conference to a nice Indian restaurant. This was a good opportunity to already meet those people for serious talk about milk banking and less serious talk about just anything and everything.

The next day at 8:30 started the EMBA conference in the Great Central Hotel, a large, long standing venerable 4-star Hotel in the center of Glasgow. The program of the conference was packed with presentations from speakers all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, interrupted with poster sessions.

PATH opened the conference with a very enthusiastic speech about Human Milk Banking in a Global World and the progress that has been made in child survival. However, as Kimberly emphasized there is still need for more donor milk to reduce the still-to-high rate of neonatal deaths. PATH is advocating for a global guidance from WHO to guide safety and the appropriate use of donor human milk. PATH’s contribution to human milk banking was acknowledged through many mentions in different presentations during the conference.

During the conference and the poster exhibitions I had the possibility to meet many experts in the field for in-depth discussions about pasteurization and improvement of the processes as well as new and emerging technologies for the treatment of donated milk. Discussions were continued during a meeting dinner set up the first evening of the conference and the following day. This conference was in all senses extremely positive as it boosted through the presentations, posters, and the personal contacts my understanding of human milk banking, which I will be able to implement during my work at PATH.

Because my flight back to Seattle was scheduled on Sunday I had all Saturday for a visit of Glasgow. After a long extensive breakfast in the hotel, during which I had a long discussion about guidelines for treatment of human donor milk, I rambled all day through the center of Glasgow. I discovered a very heterogeneous mixture of old and new, well and sometimes not-so-well preserved, traditional and modern. There was a lively hustle and bustle in the streets until late in the night when the pubs got crowded.  

Certainly worth a visit is the old Cathedral of Glasgow which dates back to the 12th century. I also enjoyed walking around in the park-like cemetery of Glasgow (the necropolis) situated on a hill nearby the cathedral with its old impressive monuments and weathered tombstones.

(Parenthesis: The rain period was too short to finish my account in one go 🙂 so it is several days later that I resume writing).

Many of the tombstones displayed engraved a list of a family’s children that all died of very young age (days, weeks, months). These tombstones reminded me of the fortunate age we are living in; that thanks to the progress that has been made over the last century and decades in hygiene and medicine, and which includes donor milk banking and certainly vaccination, early child death could be so drastically reduced. Yet, many people around the globe still have no access to the same standards as we have and which we take for granted. There is still so much work to be done!