DUBAI // Expatriate workers from 10 countries will be tested for 16 medical conditions in their home countries before being granted a visa to live or work in the UAE.
The new tests will begin on October 1 in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Eight more countries - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia - are expected to be added later.
In addition to serious communicable illnesses, applicants will be screened for non-infectious diseases such as cancer and renal failure, and some physical disabilities such as colour-blindness and deafness.
After entry into the UAE they will be retested for tuberculosis, leprosy, hepatitis B and HIV/Aids, and will undergo the same tests for visa renewal. Visitors on tourist or visit visas will be exempt.
"We hope these procedures have a positive impact on public health in society to eliminate diseases among newcomers to the UAE, and reduce the psychological and financial burden in case they fail to obtain a residency visa," Dr Salem Al Darmaki, acting undersecretary at the Ministry of Health, said yesterday.
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.
The UAE is the final GCC country to implement the programme.
The average manpower coming from the 10 applicable countries to work in the region exceeds 1.7 million a year. Migrant workers must undergo medical tests in their home countries through 220 approved health centres before being given entry visas and work permits in GCC member states.
Dr Mahmoud Fikri, assistant undersecretary for health policies, said there would be routine checks to ensure that the highest standards were maintained and to reduce the possibility of fake certificates being issued.
"We have the GCC technical committee, they are a group of physicians who are routinely going from time to time to check and re-check for quality control and quality assurance of the work in those home countries," he said.
"They have the medical criteria for the laboratory, for the X-ray … the clinical assessment of these conditions."
Dr Fikri said test results would be linked electronically among GCC countries so all information was accessible before an individual applied for a visa.
He described the programme as "preliminary screening", and said Indonesia and Sri Lanka were chosen as the first two countries because the GCC technical committee was already in those countries conducting routine inspections.
An estimated 250,000 Sri Lankans and 100,000 Indonesians are employed in the UAE.
"We will start with these countries for three to six months then evaluate the programme," Dr Fikri said. "The second phase will be according to the evaluation."
The new procedures are similar to those conducted in other countries. All immigrants applying for a permanent visa to the US, for example, must first have a medical examination in their country of origin. The US Department of State website lists the approved health centres in each country where individuals can undergo medical exams.
The exam includes tests for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and syphilis. In addition, applicants must also be up-to-date on all their vaccines, including Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, influenza and the Rubella virus.
Dr Basheer Al Sufyani, head of the expatriate health check-up project at the executive board of the GCC Health Minister's Council, said that according to previous figures, preliminary screening has reduced the number of cases in which infected workers entered GCC countries by 15 to 20 per cent.
Workers must pay for the preliminary exams, while the second round of tests in the UAE are usually paid for by the companies sponsoring the employees.
Applicants who are accepted must be rechecked upon entering the GCC member country because there is the possibility of error, Dr Al Sufyani said.
"The countries that have implemented the programme have just a few cases," he said. "In Oman, they just have 0.002 per cent of those unfit cases coming into the country."
Dr Aizeldin Abdelrahman Elgak Ibrahim, director of the public health and safety department in the health policy and strategy sector at Dubai Health Authority, said retesting also ensured that the incubation period of certain diseases had passed, verifying that those who granted a work or residence visa are in fact free of infectious diseases.
A main reason for the application of the programme, he said, was the prevalence of migrant workers in the UAE. Over the past few years there had been an increase in the number of infectious disease cases among newcomers, particularly tuberculosis, he said.
According to 2008 figures from the Ministry of Health, there were 1,328 cases of pulmonary tuberculosis, of which 1,248 were found in expatriates.