Hong Kong, China:
Catherine Kosasih was taken from her home in Hong Kong by medical professionals in protective clothing and did not know if or when she would see her children when she was only four months and 21 months old.
In the hospital, her diagnosis of COVID-19 was confirmed, she was kept isolated, and her husband and children were quarantined. Even worse, they found that there was no way to feed them since their youngest was allergic to the formula.
"I suddenly left the house and didn't know how long I would stay in the hospital. I had so many worries, but one of the biggest was for the baby being breastfed, especially after she had reacted so badly that my husband was short was about to call an ambulance, "explains the 33-year-old.
After instructing Kosasih to dispose of her pumped milk because the medication she was taking to treat the virus could be passed on to her baby, she turned to Gemma MacFarlane, founder of Hong Kong Breastfeeding, a social media Support group.
MacFarlane has posted an SOS fundraising call online.
Within a few hours, dozens of mothers had come together to offer what they could, and within a day, more than 15 liters – enough to feed the baby for about two weeks – had been promised.
"I had tears in my eyes, I still can't believe that so many mothers pumped milk for my baby," said Kosasih, who was suffering from fever, tiredness and muscle pain and had white spots on her lungs.
She spent two weeks in the hospital fighting the virus that has killed more than 200,000 people worldwide since it was first identified in China in December.
The race against time
Novel coronavirus has not yet been found in breast milk, and the World Health Organization says mothers who have COVID-19 and are planning to breastfeed should be assisted to do so safely.
But Hong Kong has some of the strictest isolation rules for virus patients.
MacFarlane felt compelled to help: "It is bad enough that she was separated from her baby, but thinking that she had to waste her liquid gold is terrible, and all of this with a terrible reaction from her baby to the artificial breast milk substitute to round it off. It would be heartless not to worry about it. "
For many parents, the fear that their children will be quarantined alone, hospitalized, or separated from them is far more worrying than being infected with the virus.
Kosasih's plight – and that of her husband Jürgen Ditz, who took care of two infants in quarantine – hit many who donated breast milk.
"In these dark times we have to show compassion and empathy," says the mother of Nicole Bautista, who pumped additional milk for this trip.
"If I were in the same situation, I would have been extremely upset," she adds.
Logistical challenges still had to be overcome.
But it was a race against time to take the milk – usually frozen – from several meeting points to Ditz (41) and her daughters Kalea and Avielle before they thawed.
The volunteers who lead breastfeeding in Hong Kong effectively formed a relay for breast milk supply.
Panic buying, hungry babies
After MacFarlane's call and when the offerings were flooded, Gillian Coull took over the compilation and collection and hired partner David Barnaby as a motorcycle courier to explore the city and get the milk.
He handed the boxes over to Nissa Cornish and others who delivered them to the drop-off point at the family home in a remote part of Hong Kong.
"It was really humble how willing and willing mothers were to share their precious breast milk supply with a complete stranger. Some mothers each contributed more than two liters," Coull recalls.
Ditz says he tried to maintain a certain normalcy for the kids by contacting his wife on FaceTime to wake them up and eat them together.
But without viable milk, he feared the baby would end up in the hospital too – until he saw the huge donation on his doorstep.
"I had tears in my eyes. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know there was a lot of community spirit in Hong Kong, which is usually money, money, money."
The spread of the virus promotes similar milk drives worldwide – which have their origin online but achieve real results. Breast milk donation is legal, but not regulated in most countries.
Similar informal efforts are taking place across the country in the UK.
American writer and influencer Jenny Tamas, who has millions of followers on social media, launched a nationwide milk campaign on Instagram after hearing about mothers who were upset and unable to feed their babies because panic purchases left the recipe shelves empty.
The Tamas project enabled mothers who need breast milk from every state to measure themselves against donors.
"There are mothers with hungry babies who feel they have no immediate strength. And if you have a hungry baby and have no other options, you have no time to wait."
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)