FROM THE FRONT LINE

World News Day: Doctor's efforts allay migrant workers' fears in Singapore

Dr Hamid Rahmatullah became the deputy lead when Sengkang General Hospital formed a Covid-19 quick-response team. Dr Hamid, who no longer has to visit migrant worker dormitories as frequently with the stabilisation of the situation there, is glad tha
Dr Hamid Rahmatullah became the deputy lead when Sengkang General Hospital formed a Covid-19 quick-response team. Dr Hamid, who no longer has to visit migrant worker dormitories as frequently with the stabilisation of the situation there, is glad that his ability to speak Tamil has benefited the workers. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF HAMID RAHMATULLAH

Many migrant workers long confined in dormitories are returning to work without fear, thanks to Dr Hamid Rahmatullah.

Chatting with them in Tamil, he has boosted their confidence by telling them what they need to know about Covid-19.

The associate consultant in Sengkang General Hospital's orthopaedic surgery department returned from Britain where he was pursuing a research degree in March, when the outbreak worsened among migrant workers here.

He became the deputy lead when Sengkang General Hospital formed a Covid-19 quick-response team.

He is in a communication team along with a few other doctors who speak Bengali, Tamil and other South Asian languages.

"Often when they hear facts first-hand from medical staff... their fears are greatly relieved," he said.

The situation in the dormitories has stabilised in recent weeks, said Dr Hamid, adding that he needs to visit the dorms only a few times a month, instead of a week.

As at yesterday, Singapore had more than 57,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, the vast majority of whom - more than 54,000 - are migrant workers staying in dormitories. There have been 27 deaths to date.

Steps to stem the spread include regularly testing all workers. Essential workers were also moved out of dormitories to temporary housing.

But there are still a small number of cases being found, and they and their close contacts continue to be isolated or quarantined. Measures such as safe distancing have also been implemented at the dorms.​​

 
 
 

"I am happy and proud that my ability to speak Tamil has benefited the workers at a critical time," said Dr Hamid, whose ancestors are from Tamil Nadu.

Worker Giresan Ramasamy said of Dr Hamid: "Even when he was unable to meet me, he would call me on the phone and ask about my health."

Dr Hamid said it has not been easy to work during the pandemic, especially during the fasting period of Ramadan. "Fasting and working was not easy... But, as a popular Tamil proverb goes, service to mankind is service to God."

The father of two children, aged four and seven, added: "My family and colleagues were especially supportive."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2020, with the headline 'Doctor's efforts allay migrant workers' fears'. Subscribe