Doc quietly serves migrant workers in need

Dr Goh Wei Leong is not one to bask in the spotlight. For more than 10 years, the 57-year-old general practitioner had gone almost unnoticed, providing migrant workers in Singapore with affordable healthcare.

So, it was little surprise that when he and his healthcare charity, HealthServe, were named The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year for 2017, the attention took him by surprise.

"I never expected this, especially when there were all these other noble people," Dr Goh said of the other nine finalists.

Unassuming, yet driven by a single-minded dedication to lending a helping hand to those who need it, Dr Goh has seen HealthServe grow to become not just a clinic for migrant workers, but also a place which offers social assistance, skills training and a food programme.

HealthServe was founded by Dr Goh and businessman Tang Shin Yong. The two became friends after working on disaster relief in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The charity has 10 full-time staff and 300 active volunteers, including 70 doctors and 20 dentists. They work out of five premises in Geylang, Mandai, Tai Seng, Jurong and Little India.

Migrant workers pay $5 for each visit. Those on a Special Pass who are unable to work after lodging an injury or salary claim with the Manpower Ministry need not pay.

The number of yearly consultations doubled from fewer than 4,000 in 2015 to about 8,000 last year.

More than dishing out medicine to those in need, HealthServe is about the human community, Dr Goh said, fostering interaction between people from disparate backgrounds.

Singapore has about one million low-wage migrant workers from the developing world, making up nearly 30 per cent of the workforce.

And Dr Goh, a general practitioner at Manhattan Medical Centre in Chin Swee Road for nearly 30 years, said he hopes the work of HealthServe can "help Singaporeans grow more attentive to those around them". "Then we can call ourselves a mature society," he added.

One of Dr Goh's guests at yesterday's event was Indian migrant Balakrishnan Karu-nakaran, who fractured his left leg after a water tank fell on him at a construction site last June.

Mr Balakrishnan, 32, received food, money and shelter from HeathServe when he needed them most. He now volunteers at HealthServe.

"Before that, I was very scared. I was thinking, how to stay on in Singapore? My (former) employer didn't take care of me. They (at HealthServe) have a very good team. They allowed me to keep on hoping."

Toh Wen Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2018, with the headline 'Doc quietly serves migrant workers in need'. Subscribe