Asia's Most Influential: Goh Wei-Leong, Medical Doctor and Adviser of HealthServe
During the pandemic, a HealthServe volunteer encountered a migrant worker who could not bring himself to eat. Not because the food was bad but he was suffering from guilt about working in Singapore in relative security while his family in Bangladesh had lost their jobs and were starving.
“The pain for him was so deep and it is a reflection of the experiences of many migrant workers,” says Goh Wei-Leong, co-founder and adviser of HealthServe, a non-profit which provides medical care, counselling, case assistance and other support services to the migrant worker community. The worker was counselled and eventually resumed eating regularly, he adds.
“Lockdown during Covid-19 meant that many of us had to give up our liberties, but for this vulnerable community, this is much more amplified and the small things really matter to them.”
For the general practitioner, this incident reinforced the importance of HealthServe’s ethos. After several humanitarian trips to countries including Mongolia, India and Indonesia changed his outlook on life, he co-founded HealthServe in 2006. Today, a team of 19 staff and hundreds of volunteers and interns manage and operate its programmes and centres.
When Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition, or Dorscon, level to Orange, which means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate public health impact, in February this year, it led to the overnight loss of 95 per cent of its medical volunteers. HealthServe rapidly launched teleconsultation services to make up the shortfall. It also escalated the roll-out of mental wellness initiatives such as a virtual telecounselling clinic and group intervention sessions.
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This year, it engaged over 7,500 migrant workers through its Covid-19 ground programmes, distributed $345,000 in social services aid and reached 1.5 million views on its informational websites and online videos. Its teams of volunteers also set up self-grooming kiosks at community care facilities and helped with mental health and fitness sessions at Covid-19 facilities such as cruise ships and hotels.
Next, there are plans to ramp up HealthServe’s chronic health diseases management services after volunteers discovered that many workers were struggling to manage their health. “Many workers were getting medicine from back home so once that supply chain was cut, they had nowhere to go,” Goh observes.
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He credits the organisation’s success to the genuine concern shown by its volunteers. “To allay the fears of migrant workers, showing friendship was the most important factor. The pandemic brought out the best among our volunteers and it shows that in the midst of struggling, there is a ray of hope.”