UAE may roll out disease checks to Asian, Arab migrants

Jobseekers from nine further countries could face screening within three months
According to MoH data, 21 percent of immigrants screened from Asian countries in 2009 tested positive for tuberculosis
By Elizabeth Broomhall
Tue 27 Sep 2011 08:55 AM

Jobseekers from a further nine Asian and African states may be forced to undergo screening for infectious diseases in their home countries under plans unveiled by the UAE’s Ministry of Health.

Migrants from India, Pakistan Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria and Sudan could face disease checks within three months, should a pilot phase targeting jobseekers from Indonesia and Sri Lanka run smoothly.  

The initial phase of the scheme will come into effect on Oct 1.

“[How we roll the rest of the scheme out] will depend on our evaluation,” Dr Ibrahim Al Qadi, director of the ministry’s preventative medicine department, told Arabian Business.

“We are going to evaluate our situation from these two countries. After three or six months we will sit down again, and plan how we go further.”

The scheme is designed to bar migrants at risk of spreading infection from entering the UAE and to curb the entry of contagious diseases in the Gulf states.

Immigrants are required to undergo a second compulsory screening on their arrival in the UAE, before securing a visa. Those that test positive for contagious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis or hepatitis B are deported.

Al Qadi said the scheme would eventually apply across all categories of workers, irrespective of the incidence rates linked to their home country.

“Incidence rates don’t matter,” he said. “Our main plan is to completely stop the entry of any infectious diseases, because once they enter, it will create a problem for us inside the country.”

Doctors practising in the UAE are required to inform the ministry if they treat an expatriate who is diagnosed with an infectious disease.

Under existing laws, expatriates are required to undergo medical checks before securing a residency visa in the UAE. However, the ministry said in May the potentially month-long period before screening could allow for the spread of some diseases before diagnosis.

A further loophole in the new system is that tourists and expats returning home for holidays will be exempt from testing, said Al Qadi.

“For visitors we don’t yet do it,” he said. “We don’t have any plans to do that yet because this doesn’t happen for any country in the world. Still, these issues have not been discussed properly. So we are waiting. We might do it in the future, but it depends.”

Neighbouring Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, have required migrants from certain regions to undergo health checks in their home countries for some time.

The UAE scheme is initially likely to rely on overseas hospitals accredited by other GCC states to carry out screening on its behalf, Al Qadi said.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.