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Health-seeking behaviour of male foreign migrant workers living in a dormitory in Singapore

Weixian Lee1, Andy Neo1, Sandra Tan2, Alex R Cook2, Mee Lian Wong2, Joshua Tan1, Andrew Sayampanathan1, Daniel Lim1, Shin Yong Tang3, Wei Leong Goh3, Mark I-Cheng Chen24* and Chwin Ho1

Author Affiliations

1 Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

2 Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, MD3, 16 Medical Drive, Singapore 117597, Singapore

3 HealthServe Community Clinic, Singapore, Singapore

4 Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Institute of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore, Singapore

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:300  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-300

Published: 10 July 2014



Foreign workers’ migrant status may hinder their utilisation of health services. This study describes the health-seeking behaviour and beliefs of a group of male migrant workers in Singapore and the barriers limiting their access to primary healthcare.


A cross-sectional study of 525 male migrant workers, ≥21 years old and of Indian, Bangladeshi or Myanmar nationality, was conducted at a dormitory via self-administered questionnaires covering demographics, prevalence of medical conditions and health-seeking behaviours through hypothetical scenarios and personal experience.


71% (95%CI: 67 to 75%) of participants did not have or were not aware if they had healthcare insurance. 53% (95%CI: 48 to 57%) reported ever having had an illness episode while in Singapore, of whom 87% (95%CI: 82 to 91%) saw a doctor. The number of rest days was significantly associated with higher probability of having consulted a doctor for their last illness episode (p = 0.026), and higher basic monthly salary was associated with seeing a doctor within 3 days of illness (p = 0.002). Of those who saw a doctor, 84% (95%CI: 79 to 89%) responded that they did so because they felt medical care would help them to work better. While 55% (95%CI: 36 to 73%) said they did not see a doctor because the illness was not serious, those with lower salaries were significantly more likely to cite inadequate finances (55% of those earning < S$500/month). In hypothetical injury or illness scenarios, most responded that they would see the doctor, but a sizeable proportion (15% 95%CI: 12 to 18%) said they would continue to work even in a work-related injury scenario that caused severe pain and functional impairment. Those with lower salaries were significantly more likely to believe they would have to pay for their own healthcare or be uncertain about who would pay.


The majority of foreign workers in this study sought healthcare when they fell ill. However, knowledge about health-related insurance was poor and a sizeable minority, in particular those earning < S$500 per month, may face significant issues in accessing care.

Migrant worker; Health survey; Health seeking behaviour; Singapore