From Breast To Baby … Via A Mother's Milk Bank

India accounts for 20% of the world's infant mortalities, and parents in this male-dominated society often reject newborn daughters. A milk bank in Udaipur helps to prevent the deaths of premature babies and to feed those abandoned at birth.

At Udaipur's milk bank
At Udaipur's milk bank
Jasvinder Sehgal

UDAIPUR â€" Sonu Nagda is breastfeeding her 8-month-old daughter. She has more than enough milk, so she regularly donates some of it to her local milk bank in the Indian city of Udaipur. "Donating breast milk doesn't cost me anything," Nagda says. "Think of the infants whose mothers have died or the mothers who aren't able to feed their children."

The Divya Mother Milk Bank is run by a local non-profit that also runs an orphanage for abandoned children in Udaipur. Devendra Agrawal, a yoga guru who heads the group, says most of the children are girls. "We decided to educate the people that if you don't like your daughters, gift them to us," he says. "Within no time, hundreds of daughters were left in our orphanage."

Agrawal noticed that many suffered from low immunity before realizing that it was because they weren't receiving mother's milk, the ideal food for the healthy growth and lifelong immunity of an infant.

The bank, which has been running since April 2013, collects 40 liters of breast milk every month. Most, but not all, of the bank's milk is given to premature babies receiving care at the government-run hospital in Udaipur. "During the last two years, after the bank came into existence, almost 2,500 mothers have donated more than 16,000 units of milk to save almost 1,300 infants from untimely death," Agrawal says.

Despite achieving major inroads in the care of newborns, India still accounts for 20% of the world's infant mortalities. Doctors say the main killers in India are infections and low birth weight.

To prevent these deaths, the charity Save the Children says breast milk is the most effective solution, particularly when a baby is breastfed immediately after birth and exclusively for the first six months.

The milk bank follows strict control measures. "We first check the milk for the major three diseases, including HIV, which can be transmitted to the infants," says Manorma Dangi, who works in the milk bank's laboratory. "We also do a health checkup of the donor. She is checked for blood pressure, malaria, TB, jaundice and other diseases. When all these reports are negative, only then do we accept the donation."

Saroj Kumari, 15, is here to get some breastmilk for her aunt, who is unable to produce enough to feed her two-week-old twin babies. "Since coming here, their weight has increased considerably," she says. "Before, they were very small."

Kumari vows to repay the bank for what it has done for her family when she becomes a mother.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!