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Big drop in UAE visa applicants with tuberculosis

The number of visa applicants coming from Sri Lanka and Indonesia with communicable diseases drops significantly following implementation of a home screening programme.

ABU DHABI // The number of Sri Lankan and Indonesian visa applicants with infectious diseases has dropped significantly since home screening programmes began in the two countries last year.

Figures from the Abu Dhabi Health Authority compared the prevalence of infectious diseases among visa applicants in the first quarter of 2011, before the home screening programme was introduced, to the first quarter of 2012, after its launch.

The most notable decreases were for tuberculosis (TB) and syphilis. Cases of TB among Sri Lankan visa applicants were down from 9.2 per 1,000 in 2011 to just below 1 per 1,000 in 2012. Among Indonesian visa applicants, the same disease showed a decrease from 7.3 per thousand in 2011 to 4.2 per thousand in 2012.

Syphilis cases among Sri Lankan applicants dropped from 5.7 per thousand to 4.6 per thousand, while the number of cases from Indonesia dropped by nearly half - from 4.3 cases per 1,000 in 2011 to 2.4 per 1,000 in 2012.

The home screening programme was introduced last October by the Ministry of Health to prevent workers deemed medically unfit from entering the country.

It requires workers to be screened at an approved health centre in their home country for a list of infectious diseases and medical conditions. Those who test positive are declared medically unfit and their visa application is rejected.

The tests in Sri Lanka and Indonesia are the first phase of the ministry's application of the GCC expatriate worker medical examination programme, which began in 1995 and covers workers coming from 10 South Asian and African countries. The UAE was the final GCC country to implement the programme, and plans to expand it to workers coming from Ethiopia in July.

Medically unfit individuals include those who have HIV/Aids, TB, hepatitis B as well as serious health conditions, including renal failure, congestive heart failure and cancer. Both HIV/Aids and TB are deportable conditions, meaning that expatriates found with these diseases in the UAE are sent back to their home countries.

Dr Farida Al Hosani, the section head of communicable diseases at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, said the figures showed promise in the programme's effectiveness.

"Previously people with TB were not discovered until the results came out after they were tested here, which takes between four to six weeks. By that time they could have infected others," she said. "Through this programme, we are also trying to minimise [deportation]. This is for their convenience and for the well-being of the community."

An estimated 250,000 Sri Lankans and 100,000 Indonesians are employed in the UAE. The 10 countries covered by the GCC expatriate worker medical examination programme contribute more than 1.7 million workers to the region.

mismail@thenational.ae

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