Adapting the Breastmilk Sharing Program for Bangladesh: Engineers’ Perspective

Breastmilk sharing is a generous act that gifts deprived newborns milk from another mother. Given the benefits and necessity of breastmilk for a newborn child, any programs relating to this are nevertheless worthy of support from everyone. Undermining existing local traditions and beliefs may not be the best approach; We must always consider culture and customs before introducing a novel idea to a new population.

This post explains a technical solution to this problem in the context of the Muslim-majority population of Bangladesh. Based on the simple idea, we need to retain the identities of children sharing breastmilk. However, we also need to protect identities and prevent malicious or privacy-invading lookup attempts.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in theology. This post assumes that retaining the identity of breastmilk sharing children is the goal to prevent accidental marriage between them.

Goal

The goal is to prevent accidental marriage between children sharing breastmilk from a mother. As I got to know from my friends who are experts in this domain, in Islamic traditions, children sharing the milk from a mother are considered siblings; and marriage between siblings is forbidden in the tradition.

So the design goals are pretty simple:

  1. Retain the identity of the giving mother and receiving children.
  2. Anonymize their identities. The system should only allow queries to find out whether a pair shared breastmilk or not. Privacy is important at this phase.
  3. This solution requires government assistance and active data updates for every child born; maybe a national registrar.

High-Level Implementation

Every Bangladeshi citizen possesses a NID / Smart Card number.

Every individual born in Bangladesh has a BRN or Birth Registration Number, which is linked to their NID, Smart Card, Passport and Driving License Number. All Government-issued IDs in Bangladesh are interlinked and can be looked up with proper access. So if you know a person’s BRN, you can look them up with their NID and vice-versa.

Now we have two operations to consider:

  1. Storing the Data
  2. Looking up the Data to check if a pair are siblings

Structure (?)

Assuming a simple RDBMS system, this is my toy design for it.

create table registry
(
	id serial constraint registry_pk primary key,
	mother_id bigint not null,
	child_id bigint not null
);

create unique index registry_child_id_uindex on registry (child_id);

create index registry_mother_id_child_id_index on registry (mother_id, child_id);

Storing the Data

We would use the simple idea of a hashmap for this problem. Let’s follow the steps for storing a breastfeeding record:

  1. Take the mother’s NID, and hash it with a one-way function. The function would always return the same hash for the NID. However, you cannot get the exact NID by reversing the hash.
  2. Take the child’s NID and hash it in a similar manner.
  3. Push the hashes into a database.
insert into registry(mother_id, child_id)
values ( md5('MOTHERS_SMARTCARD_NUMBER'), md5('CHILDS_BRN_NUMBER') );

Whenever a new child is born, we register the child with the system as a newborn to a mother in a similar fashion as before.

Looking up

The lookup queries are very simple as well. We just look to see whether a pair share the same mother. We hash both of their BRNs and lookup in the database to see if their mother(s) are the same, as in their mother_id are the same or not.

SELECT mother_id
 FROM registry
 WHERE child_id LIKE '16995543d87294c3641bcdb245444d83'
SELECT mother_id
FROM registry
WHERE child_id LIKE '827ccb0eea8a706c4c34a16891f84e7b'
if (child_1.mother_id == child_2.mother_id):
    raise SiblingException()

Example Scenario

  1. Mrs. Hossain has given birth to Asif, whos ID hash is 16995543d87294c3641bcdb245444d83. It is recorded in the database along with the hash of her Smart Card 202cb962ac59075b964b07152d234b70.
  2. She demonstrates her generosity by donating breastmilk for a female child 81dc9bdb52d04dc20036dbd8313ed055. It is recorded against the hash of her Smart Card Number.
  3. After 22-24 years, if there is a marriage proposal between the subjects mentioned in 1 and 2, we lookup in the system with their BRNs. And sure enough, it would identify them as siblings who shared the same mother’s breastmilk.

That’s it. However definitely this a toy solution. But I hope this helps you get your thinking hats on. Tracking bottle numbers, facility ID and what not! We Bangladeshis have to solve our own problems!

Concluding words

This is nowhere near a complete solution and this requires a lot of administrative overhead. My point in this post is, we must always consider local customs, culture, and traditions before moving forward with novel concepts. Respect and consideration are the keys to any successful campaign. And no one will solve problems for us, we have to do it!

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