How changes in the law on TB af­fect ex­pats

Health official clar­i­fies rule changes on tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and what it means for suf­fer­ers and fam­i­lies in UAE

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Nawal Al Ramahi @nawal_ramahi

New reg­u­la­tions is­sued ear­lier this year re­gard­ing visa rules and de­por­ta­tion or­ders for tu­ber­cu­lo­sis ( TB) suf­fer­ers in the UAE left many res­i­dents con­fused.

In March 2016, the UAE Cab­i­net is­sued a de­cree clar­i­fy­ing rules on TB, which stated that ex­pa­tri­ates with the dis­ease will not be au­to­mat­i­cally de­ported, al­low­ing res­i­dents to spon­sor spouses or chil­dren with old TB scars.

The is­sue sparked a flurry of let­ters and com­ments from 7DAYS read­ers on the topic.

One let­ter writer asked: “I am work­ing as an engi­neer in Abu Dhabi since seven years, and af­ter get­ting mar­ried I brought my wife to Abu Dhabi but she was di­ag­nosed with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and they put a life ban on her. Since then I have not ap­plied for her visa.

“A re­cent up­date in the UAE law has made me cu­ri­ous, whether I can ap­ply for my wife’s visa again and her life ban can be lifted or not.

“I can prove that she has no symp­toms of TB or any threat to the so­ci­ety. What are the chances and what is the pro­ce­dure?”

We spoke with Nabeel Al Marhoumi, a pub­lic health con­sul­tant at the pre­ven­tive medicine de­part­ment at the Min­istry of Health, to get a bet­ter idea of how the UAE is deal­ing with TB.

What is tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, how is it treated?

“Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis is caused by bac­te­ria (My­cobac­terium tu­ber­cu­lo­sis) that most of­ten ef­fects lungs. TB is spread from per­son to per­son through the air. When peo­ple with TB cough, sneeze or spit, they pro­pel the TB germs into the air. A per­son needs to in­hale only a few of these germs to be­come in­fected.

“TB is treated through a standard six-month course of four an­timi­cro­bial drugs, un­der su­per­vi­sion and sup­port by the pri­mary

health­care cen­tres.”

How did the UAE law change re­gard­ing tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and visas?

“Ex­pa­tri­ates will no longer be de­ported if found to be suf­fer­ing from ac­tive TB. The per­son will be re­ported to pri­mary health­care cen­tres and must fol­low the pre­scribed treat­ment. TB pa­tients will be hos­pi­talised un­til spu­tum smear re­sults are neg­a­tive.”

What if a per­son doesn’t fol­low the course?

“TB pa­tients who don’t fol­low the treat­ment course could be de­clared med­i­cally unfit and be forced to leave the coun­try. “Res­i­dents with ac­tive TB will be is­sued a one-year visa with a med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate that men­tions visa re­newal sub­ject to treat­ment.”

Why has the law changed?

“In the past, ex­pa­tri­ates who recog­nised they had symp­toms of TB, such as fever, cough­ing up blood, night sweats, and un­in­ten­tional weight loss, would choose to not to visit a doc­tor. As they feared de­por­ta­tion and would in­stead wait un­til their visas ex­pired to leave the coun­try.

“In such cases, other UAE res­i­dents and nationals are at a higher risk of de­vel­op­ing TB. The new law on TB al­lows ex­pa­tri­ates, who are di­ag­nosed with TB af­ter en­ter­ing the coun­try, to be treated and not fear go­ing to med­i­cal clin­ics and cen­tres.”

If a per­son’s wife was di­ag­nosed with TB and au­thor­i­ties put a life ban on her records, could a UAE res­i­dent ap­ply for her visa and re­move the

life ban?

“Yes, it’s pos­si­ble. Wives, lead­ing in­vestors and ex­pa­tri­ate stu­dents en­rolled with UAE uni­ver­si­ties be­long to ex­empt cat­e­gories and will be al­lowed to ap­ply for new visas even if they have scars from cured TB.”

What are the chan­nels for sub­mit­ting the ap­pli­ca­tion to re­move the life ban?

“The per­son’s hus­band or rel­a­tive should con­tact the UAE im­mi­gra­tion de­part­ment and file cer­tain doc­u­ments to see if she would be al­lowed to the coun­try. Then, the life ban might be re­moved and when she lands in the coun­try she has to visit the as­signed med­i­cal cen­tre to fol­low the treat­ment course.”

How did the pol­icy change for peo­ple with ac­tive or old TB who ap­ply for a UAE visa?

“The pol­icy is un­changed for peo­ple with ac­tive or old tu­ber­cu­lo­sis who are ap­ply­ing for a UAE visa for the first time, ex­cept for spe­cific cases such as wives and lead­ing in­vestors.”

Does the same pol­icy ap­ply to HIV/AIDS and hep­ati­tis C virus suf­fer­ers?

“No, it doesn’t. The UAE has a pol­icy of de­port­ing HIV-pos­i­tive ex­pa­tri­ates.

“The dis­ease is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous and con­ta­gious and the num­ber of HIV suf­fer­ers in the coun­try is ex­tremely low due to the cur­rent law re­gard­ing this dis­ease. How­ever, ex­pa­tri­ates with hep­ati­tis C virus might get a res­i­dency visa de­pend­ing on their oc­cu­pa­tion.”

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