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Fri 15 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Ministry wavers on HCV visa ban

Hepatitis C sufferers in the United Arab Emirates face an anxious wait after reports the Ministry of Health is reconsidering plans to add the bloodborne disease to a list of deportable diseases.

Hepatitis C sufferers in the United Arab Emirates face an anxious wait after reports the Ministry of Health is reconsidering plans to add the bloodborne disease to a list of deportable diseases.

A Ministry of Health circular, leaked in last month's Medical Times, said visa applications and renewals would include a new screen for HCV.

The news faced a backlash from physicians and global health organisations that branded the move "unethical".

However, a source at the Ministry said the decision was shelved only after concerns about its potential economic impact on the country's construction industry.

The majority of the UAE's immigrant labour workers are recruited from Asia, a region that carries a high prevalence of hepatitis C.

Charles Gore, president of the World Hepatitis Alliance, said he was pleased that the UAE had taken time to reconsider the decision, but urged the government to be proactive in identifying and treating those affected by the virus.

"One of the big problems with hepatitis C worldwide is how under-diagnosed it is - the enlightened thing to do would be to offer tests to people not to deport them, but to offer treatment so they can lead a productive life."

The government has an obligation to offer healthcare to residents, he said.

"If they are foreign nationals that are building your country then you would like to think that you do have a duty of care to them. What is needed from [authorities] now is a step into the enlightened twenty-first century."

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