In mid-March 2019, news of the Sungai Kim Kim chemical pollution disaster and its impact on thousands of Johor residents caught national attention. As healthcare services rushed in to provide medical aid, a temporary command centre was set up at Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium to centralize efforts. HealthToday speaks to three pharmacists about their experiences as volunteers there.
FROM NEWS EVENT TO GROUND REALITY
For Song Yick Yuan, a community pharmacist in Johor, what he saw as he first entered Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium made a deep impression.
“When we arrived, there were a lot of emergency beds in the stadium; about 20 to 30 of them.” Song’s voice was sober over the phone as he recalled the moment. “It was the first time we saw a scene like that in person. You normally only see it on TV shows or in the news.”
Like many others, what Song knew of the Sungai Kim Kim disaster had been the coverage provided via mainstream news channels. When a call for volunteers at the medical centre was issued by the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) and spread through Facebook and Whatsapp channels, he was one of those who decided to take up the job.
“Our chief pharmacist passed on the notice in our pharmacy’s Whatsapp group,” said Song, who works in Taman Mutiara Mas. “At the time, it was 17th March, which was already 1 to 2 weeks after the incident. I thought that if after all that time they were still in need of volunteers, it must be quite serious.”
When Song called up Khor Yong Xin, a colleague and fellow community pharmacist from another branch, he found that not only did she have similar thoughts, but both coincidentally had time off work for the next couple of days. The two made their way to the stadium where they were joined by other healthcare professionals assigned there or also volunteering.
While many who arrived at the centre were fellow Johoreans, some of those who answered the MPS’ call were from out of state, including Ong Aik Liang, a ward supply pharmacist at Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz UKM in Kuala Lumpur.
“When I received the message from the MPS, I quickly got in touch with the person in charge just to make sure they had a slot for me,” said Ong. “It said they lacked manpower for the 17th and the 18th (of March). I wanted to go immediately, but there was a delay in arrangements, hence I only managed to go on the 18th.”
Ong’s head of department allowed him to take leave on that day and he made an early morning drive down south in his car. While his official shift had been scheduled for 3 pm to 11 pm, Ong describes it as a “12 to 12” experience.
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