S'pore migrant worker clinic loses 90% of doctors to Covid-19 restrictions, but raises S$110k in donations

The funds will partially go toward running remote-based consultation services to help meet demand.

Jane Zhang | March 26, 2020, 11:47 AM

A local non-governmental organisation (NGO) serving migrant workers in Singapore says it has faced "unprecedented repercussions" and has had to turn many of its patients away in recent weeks, due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore.

This after it said measures put in place by healthcare organisations and the government have prevented many of its usual volunteer doctors from seeing patients in need of medical treatment.

Impact of Covid-19 outbreak on HealthServe

HealthServe, a nonprofit serving the migrant worker community in Singapore, normally operates three volunteer-run clinics, located at their main office in Geylang, at Jurong, and at Mandai.

At these clinics, migrant workers are able to access medical care for a nominal fee of S$8.

However, after the announcement of DORSCON Orange in early February, doctors working in public institutions were given the directive that they should not move from one healthcare institution to another in order to avoid cross-infection.

As a result, HealthServe's volunteer doctor pool dropped from more than 120 doctors to less than 10 available to come into their clinics, according to the organisation's website.

Healthserve Photo courtesy of HealthServe.

HealthServe also shared on Facebook on Feb. 13 that they would also be closing two of their three clinics, keeping only the Geylang clinic open and running three times a week, sometimes at only 40 per cent operational capacity.

According to its website, despite only having one clinic running, the organisation is still unable to find enough doctors to meet the needs of migrant worker patients, and have had to turn away migrant workers at every clinic session.

The clinic has also been unable to procure supplies it requires in view of the worldwide shortage.

Many of the services that HealthServe regularly offers to migrant workers, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have been suspended, and larger events such as mental wellness group outings and migrant community events have been cancelled.

Their counselling service has also stopped accepting new individuals seeking help.

Impact on wider migrant community

The public's response to DORSCON Orange as well as the measures put in place in light of it have also had a heavy impact on the migrant worker community in Singapore in general, HealthServe highlighted.

For example, there has been a shortage in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and personal hygiene resources as a result of panic-buying, price hikes as well as the scale of the Covid-19 outbreak in other countries leading to reductions in supplies.

In addition, fake news spread among the migrant community caused fear and anxiety amongst workers, affecting mental wellbeing, and those from China and Bangladesh especially also faced xenophobic attitudes and reactions in the wake of the Covid-19 situation.

And finally, workers have also been affected by quarantine orders, Leave of Absences (LOAs), and and Stay-home notices (SHNs) arising from the spread of the virus.

Introduction of telehealth services

Thus, one of the initiatives that HealthServe has launched to try to innovate with the challenges brought on by Covid-19 is a telehealth service for migrant workers, the organisation explained in a Facebook post.

This telehealth service was developed in response to Covid-19, and is a "blended care model" in which HealthServe's volunteer doctors consult with clinic patients remotely, while "skilled assistants" are physically present in the room with patients.

Medicine is dispensed in-person in the clinic, and there is always a doctor on-site to review any complex cases.

Photo courtesy of HealthServe.

The telehealth service will be funded by the Migrant Health Relief Fund, a new fund designated to support "low wage and disadvantaged migrant communities" in response to the Covid-19 situation.

Said HealthServe's executive director Michael Cheah:

"It is our hope that by deploying a hybrid telemedicine service, we can continue to keep providing consultations to as many patients as possible and potentially reopen our 2 clinics in Mandai and Jurong after completing successful trials at our Geylang clinic.

Through the Migrant Health Relief fund, we also wish to raise support for the migrant communities in Singapore affected by the Covid-19 outbreak".

HealthServe also shared that it hopes to use the funds to support:

  • Healthcare prevention packs for Special Pass Holders in Singapore,
  • Caring for the wellbeing of migrant workers serving quarantine orders or Leaves of Absence (LOAs),
  • Follow-up care for migrant workers who are confirmed cases of Covid-19,
  • Telecounselling services for migrant workers, as well as
  • Awareness talks and focus groups for migrant workers to answer questions and alleviate fears.

HealthServe's goal was to raise S$100,000 from the public, and was able to hit that goal within one week of starting the fundraiser.

At the time of writing, more than S$111,617 has been donated to the fund, according to a tracker on HealthServe's website.

You can find out more about the Migrant Health Relief Fund at HealthServe's website here.

HealthServe's Facebook post detailing information about the fund is here:

Read about one of HealthServe's volunteer doctors, and head of the medical services committee, here:

Top photo courtesy of HealthServe.