Penang Emergency Flood Relief Nov 2017

Penang Flood Emergency Response Team with IMARET (Malaysia) 

  • 10 to 12 November 2017 
  • Written by Noni Yusran

A team of four medical professionals from MHPA were given the opportunity to support and help the people affected by the recent floods in mainland Penang. It was a joint emergency response mission between MHPA and IMARET and was well coordinated by Doctor Saiful and Mohd Ali.The team was led by Dr Fadzli, Nurse Mohd Yunos, Nurse Bee Bee Nope Jahan and myself. Although the current situation was still vague, we came prepared as we hoped to assist in whatever way we can.

Day 1

We departed from T2 Changi Airport at 8am and landed safely at Bayan Lepas Penang at 9.45am. Upon clearing the immigration, we headed to Padang Menora School, Tasek Gelugor, where team from IMARET were attached. 

Along the way to our destination, the work of clearing and cleaning the roads were still on-going. Loads of damaged belongings were seen piling along the roads waiting to be removed.  The work seemed tedious and tiring.

According to one flood victim that I spoke to, he shared that almost all belongings in every house including missing livestock, plants and medicines were swept away by the floods. The roads were flooded in mud. It was massive during the initial heavy downpour. The water went up to chest level and there was little they could salvage. Many had to be evacuated and placed in the relief centres.

We were warmly received by team leader, Doctor Muhammad Syafiz Ahmad Ismani (EXCO IMARET). He was accompanied by Dr Farhana and Dr Natasha Adibah.

We had the opportunity to work with a team of friendly and dedicated doctors from IMARET. Dr Syafiz briefed us on the objectives of the mission :

  • To identify any disease outbreaks
  •  Medical relief in collaboration between IMARET and MHPA
  • Distribution of hygiene kits
  •  Post flood rehabilitation

We were attached to two relief centres :

  • Padang Menora School
  • Labuh Banting Religious Centre

These were two of the many relief centres set up by the state government with donations pouring from non-governmental organizations. They provided help in every way they could to the flood victims. Hygiene kits, mattresses, pillows and blankets, as well as food and water were generously distributed to the victims.

Although the flood victims were still recovering from the trauma, they remained calm and cheerful. I guessed they accepted wholeheartedly about the situation. Initially, there were nearly 700 flood victims sheltering in these two centres alone. Due to the space constraint and schools were still in sessions, the flood victims were placed in classrooms or small tents. Those who were placed in classrooms had to share sleeping with other families where privacy and freedom were very limited. For families who were placed in the tents, they have better privacy but with poor ventilation as the tents were very small. Most families preferred to spend their days in the school canteen or compound instead. They were looking forward to return to their respective homes.

When the water finally receded and the situation has improved, many families were allowed to return home.

When we arrived at Padang Menora School, there were 9 families left. Volunteers from other organisation were seen rendering their help. There were also volunteers in charge of cooking and serving meals to everyone. A slow and steady flow of casualties came for medical consultation for minor aches, pains and some consulted for chronic skin conditions. A handful of victims with existing chronic medical conditions were left without medicines as the medicines were salvaged by the floods.

After lunch, we headed to our next location, a 15 minutes’ drive to Labuh Banting Religious School. Most of the families in this relief centre had already returned to their homes. Those who came for medical consultation were mainly children. They came with bites from ‘paddy insects’ or commonly known as Charlie. These insects are commonly found in paddy fields and feared by many. Measuring about 1 cm in length, the insects do not bite or sting. Their bodies contain the most poisonous toxin and enter the human body through contact between the insect’s skin and human skin. Blisters and redness will form from this bite and the human experiences smarting pain. We stayed for about two hours before making our way back to Padang Menora School hoping to see more flood victims who needed or missed medical consultation.

On our second visit to Padang Menora School, Doctor Syafiz updated that most families had returned home. Only a few who came for medical consultation including a child who needed ventolin nebulizer. After an hour, we headed to our homestay while Doctor Syafiz and Doctor Fadzli attended a meeting for the latest updates on the floods situation. After a long day, we had ‘mee udang’ for dinner.

Day 2

After breakfast at Ikhwan’s Café, we were back at Padang Menora and were joined by another group of medical team. We were informed that almost all families had returned home and most relief centres were closed.

Teachers from Padang Menora School who seemed to be in good health and cheerful took the opportunity to have their blood pressure taken. Some of them were identified with undetected abnormal blood pressure results and were advised to seek medical consultation for further assessment. After 2 hours, we headed to Labuh Banting Religious School.

In Labuh Banting Religious School, Doctor Shyyn Samsuddin from IMARET who had just arrived from Johor Baharu joined our team. Stations were set up for the next team to take over the session. There were 37 volunteers comprising of doctors and medical students. Some were assigned in the school to continue where we left off while others were assigned to conduct house cleaning. By afternoon we were informed that all relief centres were closed. We headed to our next mystery destination. We stopped for prayers at a mosque before proceeding to set up our next clinic in another mosque. There were zero attendance. Doctor Fadzli accompanied by Doctor Natasha and Nurse Bee Bee Nope Jahan had the opportunity to conduct home visit- an elderly female diagnosed with CVA but was non-compliance to medication.

After a long day, we headed back to our homestay as Doctor Syafiz and Doctor Farhana had a plane to catch that evening. After dinner at a nearby Thai café, we walked back to our homestay.

Day 3

Since all relief centres were officially closed, we had the opportunity to visit and set up clinics at the Rohingya Refugee Centres. Led by Mr Mohamad Islam, he requested the team to visit 3 places where these refugees were housed- 2 in Bukit Mertajam and 1 in Kepala Batas. These people lost everything- their homes, their jobs and some even their loved ones.

Many who came to seek medical consultation were mostly children with fever and flu including Mr Mohamad’s son who had congenital eye condition. A man who sustained eye injury during work came to have his dressing changed and advised to continue with his follow up at the hospital. Doctor Shyyn and I shared our skills on basic hand hygiene to about 15 children. They participated the session with enthusiasm.

Finally we managed to complete the 3 visits by noon. We headed back to our homestay as it was time for us to fly home.

I was immensely grateful and enjoyed having the opportunity to work with MHPA members and team IMARET (Malaysia). Although we worked together in a less stressful situation but for a special purpose, it became a memorable one. I get connected with the change in the living environment and the affected people during my visits in Penang mainland. I look forward for future opportunities where I can share my knowledge and do more to those in need.