Dr Zhivago and his Amazing Clinic

By Miguel Meñez

I have a great concept for the next medical drama.  No, it’s not Dr. Zhivago (for those who remember him) and no, it’s not Gray’s Anatomy (although you could argue that there’s a handsome McDreamy-like doctor in it) and no, it’s not House with his mind-bending medical mysteries.  I got the idea for my version of ER by visiting the 15th floor of Trafalgar Place in the middle of swanky Makati City in the Philippines.

Coming into Trafalgar Place, decked out with marble flooring and Grecian columns, you’d think that going up the elevator would take you to an executive suite, or maybe a rooftop bar and pool-- this is the last place that you’d expect to find a state-of the art medical clinic.

When the elevator doors open however, contrary to my expectation of a green walled hospital floor emanating sterile odors, I experienced something entirely different.  It’s a state-of-the-art medical assessment facility that is keeping Tuberculosis  (TB) at bay in the Philippines?  As the guard opened the doors to the clinic, we were greeted by the friendly staff, already busy with the small crowd of people coming in for medical assessments.

A song by Enya plays in the background, calming the nerves of patients as they anxiously waiting for the results, and learn whether their dream of emigrating to the UK or Canada can proceed on schedule.  One well-dressed mother seems indignant that her son actually has to be tested for TB.  She scowls fiercely as the doctor coolly replies that TB is an equal-opportunity disease that respects neither class, race nor creed.  Nearby there’s a foreigner sitting nervously with his wife, looking jittery as he waits for her report and a verdict on how soon she can emigrate to Britain.

We’re whisked away by the staff to meet the brains of the operation. Here lies Dr. Predrag Bajcevic within his glass-walled office, the veritable McDreamy of the programme.  He smiles at us from the confines of his room and gives us the rundown of the medical assessment clinic.

The IOM Manila Health Centre was constructed in December 2012 to provide health assessments for individuals in the middle of the lengthy process of migration.  The health clinic is now assessing individuals going to Canada and the United Kingdom, under the United Kingdom Tuberculosis Detection Programme and the Canadian Health Assessment programme.  The patients get a range of services: a complete physical checkup, urinalysis, a sputum test, an x-ray, an HIV/Syphilis test-- all procedures required by the destination country.  The whole package of tests is available for a good price, ranging from PHP 2000 to 5000 (~USD 50-122), with the price depending on the patient’s age and country of destination.  Currently, the health centre serves between 40-50 people a day, with around 80 people inquiring about the programme daily.

But why all the trouble you ask?  Well, the IOM Migration Health Division’s goal is “to ensure that migration does not endanger the health of the migrant or pose a public health risk during travel or upon arrival at the final destination.”  So really, everyone wins.  The migrant gets a low-cost, high quality medical checkup while ensuring the health safety of those who will be travelling with the migrant and the health of those in the destination country.  In the case that any health issues are discovered through the health assessment, the patient gets to consult the physicians at the clinic at no additional cost.  And after resolving the health issue, the individual planning on migrating can come back and be checked once again.

Other clinics in Thailand, Nepal and other nations in Africa are running similar programmes.  The IOM Manila Health Centre is the newest of the bunch, taking into account the good practices learned from the past initiatives.  This global network of clinics works around the clock to provide their services to those interested in migrating, so that when people from these countries do choose to migrate, they can migrate as healthy individuals, contributing to their new communities abroad.


Miguel Meñez is a Communications Specialist for IOM