This year, Malaysian Bioscience Scholars (MBIOS) held its annual flagship event called MBIOSymposium: A Global Pandemic. Spanning two days, a line-up of diverse speakers was invited to touch on different aspects and fields affected by the recent COVID-19 outbreak, not confined to bioscience-related topics.
Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah opened the event with a keynote speech touching on the progress of our country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared about how Malaysia was able to learn from other countries combating COVID-19 and also emphasized that our response has always been evidence-driven. We learned from Tan Sri that, as of now, there are still more questions than answers as conclusive data is still lacking on various matters like vaccine efficacy. Tan Sri reminded all of us that despite the drop in cases we are seeing, we still need to ensure we continue to practice the new normal and comply with the SOPs set by the government at all times.
Tan Sri’s opening keynote was followed by an opening keynote address from Ms Anne Lee, Director of Human Resources at AstraZeneca (AZ), the main sponsor of MBIOS. Ms Anne shared about AZ has been responding to the pandemic as an ethical pharma company. AZ’s priority when the pandemic started was to make sure patients will continue to have access to healthcare. They did so by ensuring that the supply of medicines was continued regardless of the prevailing situation. AZ has also been partnering with other organizations and institutions in the fight against COVID-19. As an example, Ms Anne shared that the company’s Research and Development (R&D) team has been in collaboration with Oxford University to develop a potential vaccine for COVID-19.
Our first speaker session featured Dr Joel Low, a clinical psychologist and the Director at The Mind Psychological Services and Training. He discussed the effects of long-term isolation during lockdown and the potential effects it can have on mental health. He also touched on how the stark change in lifestyle can cause some individuals to lose their sense of self. Dr Joel advised creating timetables to establish a routine and to maintain a regular sleep schedule in order to overcome this. He also advised participants to consider practicing mindfulness during these uncertain times and to focus on the present rather than reminisce on the past or worry about the future.
We also had Dr Renard Siew, Climate Change Advisor to the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), who discussed how COVID-19 could have delayed the effects of climate change. Dr Renard discussed how there were some visible improvements as a result of the pandemic. However, these changes are not enough to overcome the challenges of climate change in the long run. One of the challenges of Dr Renard’s work is making people understand the severity of the climate crisis. He urged leaders around the world to start prioritizing climate issues and voiced his hopes that young leaders will also step up and start thinking of solutions for climate change. Dr Renard ended his session by advising participants to keep aware of what is happening around them by engaging with people in different fields as we live in a highly interdisciplinary world.
Next we had Ms Suzanne Ling who shared about her startup, Pichaeats, a platform which helps refugees sell food to earn a side income. In Malaysia, refugees are denied access to work, education and healthcare as they are not given formal documentation and recognition. Pichaeats started by helping one refugee family at a time and following years of efforts had grown to be able to provide free food for frontliners when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Ms Suzanne who co-founded Pichaeats proved to us that nothing is impossible when we work hard on something we are passionate about. She advised participants eager to achieve their dreams to start somewhere and to take small steps towards their goal.
Our last speaker for Day 1 of MBIOSymposium was Mr Kenneth Chai whose session revolved around the question: “How can I help?”. Mr Kenneth discussed how, in trying to answer the aforementioned question during the pandemic, he and his team came up with innovative ideas such as mobile ventilators and started a campaign to collect personal protective equipment (PPE) for the frontline workers. Mr Kenneth advised participants eager to volunteer their own efforts to make use of resources and networks available to them. He also stressed that, in running a volunteering program which requires consistency and a lot of effort, it is best to establish a strong support network of friends and family members. Finally, Mr Kenneth recommended the use of social media as a platform to look for volunteering opportunities if one is eager to offer their time to such efforts.
Day 2 of the symposium opened with a speech from Eo Shao Yim, president of MBIOS. She summarized the contents from Day 1 for the audience and gave a brief introduction of MBIOS and its initiatives.
This was followed by our first speaker session of the day featuring Mr Azran Osman-Rani who discussed unemployment among fresh graduates. Due to the pandemic, a lot of fresh graduates are anxious about being able to secure a job, a feeling Mr Azran says is understandable. As a result, many fresh graduates might resort to blasting out their CVs and cover letters to many potential employers, hoping to secure at least a job or two. Mr Azran, however, advises against doing so. Instead, he urged graduates to make an effort to tailor their CVs to each of their applications and emphasized that the key to a successful application is to prove how you could be useful to the employer. Graduates should invest their time to do extra research on the organization, build relationships with individuals from the organization and should find ways in which they can provide solutions to prospective employers.
We also had Ms Tan Su Lin, co-founder of Science Media Centre (SMC) Malaysia who delivered her speech on the topic of “The Pandemic of Fake News”. Ms Su Lin explained how technology is one of the main reasons fake news is being spread much faster and wider today. From fake cures, to harmful health advice, to conspiracies about the virus, this massive infodemic has put a lot of people in danger. Ms Su Lin shared some tips on how to effectively detect fake news and also provided links to reliable resources. She highlighted that the root problem of this issue has been the low media literacy level in our society, especially among the older generation. Lastly, she urged everyone to stand by the following advice: not sure, don’t share.
We then had Mr Jin Lim from JinnyboyTV who shared about issues faced in the media industry during this pandemic. Mr Jin shared about the difficulties faced by content creators in a time when the ability to film freely was greatly restricted. COVID-19 further impacted the media industry when partners began delaying and cancelling production plans at the beginning of the pandemic. This left many creators struggling with the pressure to create high-quality content in the face of reduced funding. Mr Jin, however, stressed that meaningful content can overcome the limitations that they faced with regards to reduced production quality. He reminded everyone that it is important to adapt to the situation at hand and to be creative in overcoming barriers. Finally, Mr Jin advised us all to always have financial reserves in case of situations like this.
Our final speaker for the symposium was Dato Dr Christopher Lee, the former National Advisor for Infectious Diseases in Malaysia’s Ministry of Health. Dato started off his speech by showing a recap of statistics and progress since the virus first appeared. He also shared about the severity of the disease and the way the virus is transmitted, making a comparison to the virus which caused SARS in 2003. As SARS-CoV-2 is found in much higher levels in the Upper Respiratory Tract (URT), this greatly increased its ability to be transmitted between people when compared to SARS-CoV. Dato also discussed asymptomatic transmission and highlighted that measures put in place by the government have proved to be effective in limiting asymptomatic transmission in Malaysia. Dato ended his session by advising everyone to try their best not to be fatigued with the measures and to learn to adjust to the new norm.
The team at MBIOS would once again like to thank all of the speakers for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak at the symposium. Thank you also to all of the participants who joined us on Zoom and Facebook live for being a part of our event.
**All previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/
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