On the ground in Mallacoota: community pharmacy at the front line

Mallacoota Pharmacy Pharmacist-in-Charge Emmanuel Pasura MPS at the peak of the crisis.
Mallacoota Pharmacy Pharmacist-in-Charge Emmanuel Pasura MPS at the peak of the crisis.

Images of holidaymakers being evacuated by Navy ship as bushfires closed in on Mallacoota have made the Victorian coastal town a global symbol of the unprecedented nature of the bushfire crisis.

In the lead-up to New Year’s Eve, up to 5,000 people became trapped after fires closed the only road into the remote coastal town, located just a few kilometres south of the NSW-Victoria border.

Like other pharmacists across fire-ravaged parts of the nation, Mallacoota Pharmacy Pharmacist-in-Charge Emmanuel Pasura MPS has been serving a vital role in helping local communities meet their healthcare needs.

Running on generator power, the Mallacoota Pharmacy dispensed more than double its usual amount of scripts, facing severe stock shortages, missed deliveries and panicked evacuees.

At the peak of the crisis, Mr Pasura was working almost around the clock and spent two nights sleeping in his car beside his pharmacy as he and his three front-of-shop staff dealt with a deluge of people whose medicineshad run out or who had lost theirs while being evacuated.

‘Just a few weeks before the fire I started ordering increased quantities of medicines like Ventolin (salbutamol) and antibiotics just in case,’ he said.

‘We always get a lot of visitors during this time of the year so, naturally, our orders are bigger than normal. Despite having ordered increased quantities when the fire finally roared into town it became apparent that we were very much understocked.’

Mr Pasura said he had run out of salbutamol within an hour of opening on December 30, well before the fire even reached Mallacoota.

After reaching out to a local GP and connecting with various government agencies, an intervention from the Pharmacy Guild’s Victorian Branch Director Allan Crosthwaite helped secure a shipment of salbutamol, antibiotics and P2 masks from Sigma, brought in by police barge on the next day.

‘Managing my stock was very difficult,’ he said. ‘At one point, I was dispensing only enough medications for a week if I felt that item was running low.’

As of Tuesday this week, Mr Pasura was still awaiting a new shipment, due in from Sale via helicopter, that had already been delayed for three days due to visibility concerns.

‘I hope I will get it today as I am now very desperate,’ he said.

There was a heavy sadness in the town, he said, with many of his patients losing their homes.

‘Nothing prepares you for such a disaster,’ Mr Pasura said.