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United policy on TB proposed

Emirates must review immigration policies for TB expats, under new proposals to halt global spread of the disease

The UAE Government is considering plans to standardise the treatment of tuberculosis patients across all emirates, in line with current Dubai policy.

In an interview timed to coincide with World TB Day, Dr Juma Bilal Fairuz, director of preventive medicine at the Ministry of Health, said the National TB Board was reviewing immigration policies for patients.

Under current legislation, GCC countries including the UAE are only required to treat infected residents until they are no longer contagious, when they can be deported. Dubai, however, allows residents to remain once treatment has been completed.

Fear of deportation can mean residents fail to seek help until the late stages of the disease, or just abscond, spreading the risk of infection. Under the proposed changes, all emirates would allow residents to remain after treatment, in agreement with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.

According to the Indian charity Snehathazvara, 15 Indian nationals have died from tuberculosis in the last year. V. S. Mubarak, a labour consul at the Indian Consulate, said the primary concern of workers is to earn money. “Their only concern is repaying the debt they have incurred back home. Getting treatment for disease is secondary.”

Voicing his concern at the situation, Dr Fairuz said: “My fear is that patients are diagnosed at a private clinic, go home and get half a treatment and are still infectious when they come
back here.”

Dr Fairuz hopes removing the threat of repatriation will encourage sufferers to speak up. He said: “I hope there will be a change in immigration policies, for the sake of the UAE
and patients. In my opinion, if we treat residents then they will come in for treatment and provide their list of contacts for screening.”

The WHO recently unveiled a 10-year initiative to halt the global spread of TB. The ‘Stop TB’ strategy calls on member countries to address and treat multi-drug resistant cases. Speaking at the UN, director-general Lee Jong-wook said it would require “urgent and extraordinary actions” but added, “TB control works”.

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