Helping Refugees Fight Covid-19


In our February issue, we discussed the establishment of Médecins Sans Frontières in Penang and in Malaysia, its work with vulnerable communities and the effects of Covid-19. This month, we have Dr. Ramona Pereira sharing her experiences working with the organisation.

DR. RAMONA PEREIRA’S venture into medical humanitarian work began in 2016, when she volunteered with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Penang’s mobile clinic. Already when a student at Convent Green Lane, Pereira had plans of becoming a doctor. “I have always found the humanitarian spirit to be fascinating,” says the 36-year-old.

Dr. Ramona Pereira.

Pereira was first drawn to MSF through the work the organisation does for refugee communities. She explains, “I knew very little of such opportunities existing in Malaysia, of going to remote places to serve those in dire need of medical attention regardless of politics, religion and race. It is a principle that greatly resonates with me.”

After taking a break to pursue her studies, Pereira returned to MSF as a locum. She became a full-time medical activity manager in 2020. Describing her work to be equal parts challenging and immeasurably satisfying, Pereira says, “On the one hand, there is so much to do as the needs among refugee communities are high; and on the other, it is gratifying to know that the little you do can immediately turn someone’s life around, especially those who are most vulnerable in society.

“The biggest lesson I learnt from our patients is resilience. The refugee community is such a resilient group of people, having faced so much adversity from the time they left their home country to their seeking asylum in Malaysia. My respect for them runs deep.”

Pereira is frank about how the Covid-19 pandemic has forced MSF’s medical personnel to quickly adapt to change. “The movement restrictions caused a lot of additional planning. More internal coordination was needed to ensure we continue to use our resources in the best possible way.

“During the peak of the crisis, we saw a spike in xenophobia which not only affected our patients, but also the Rohingya volunteers who support our work. It was not an easy time initially for our frontline workers at the clinic, since we still had many things to learn about the virus. But the situation is much better now,” she says.


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