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Labourers at risk from TB outbreak in camps

World Health Organisation warns of micro-epidemic if no action is taken against disease

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that there could be a micro-epidemic of Tuberculosis among construction workers in the Middle East if action is not taken quickly to stem the spread of the disease.

“TB could become a micro epidemic in the region, which means certain areas like compounds where labourers stay could be affected,” Dr Akihiro Seita, regional advisor for the WHO Stop Tuberculosis Unit, told Construction Week.

According to the WHO’s 2004 TB report — the latest statistics available — the number of cases detected in the Middle East totalled 11,476. There were 9,471 instances in Saudi Arabia, 734 in the United Arab Emirates, 668 in Kuwait, 464 in Qatar, 314 in Bahrain, and 289 in Oman.

“The way TB patients are handled in this part of the world needs to be changed,” added Seita. “We don’t usually go to the community to look for TB patients, we wait for them to come to us, so the system needs to encourage the patients to own up to having the disease.”

Among all of the Middle Eastern countries, the UAE has the lowest rate of detection, at 12.5%, meaning that many TB cases go unreported. Most TB sufferers do not seek medical help for fear of being told to leave the country.

Dubai is the only emirate that does not currently send workers home. Now other emirates are being urged to follow Dubai’s lead.

Middle Eastern countries that have the highest TB detection rates, like Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, do not
deport workers found to have the disease.

Dr Juma Bilal Fairuz, director of preventive medicine at the UAE Ministry of Health, said: “The government is working on a new law that is expected to be out by the end of this year whereby TB sufferers will no longer be deported. Instead they will get treatment until they are cured.”

Dr Rajeev Gupta of Abu Dhabi’s Ahlia Hospital warned that worker’s conditions must change, otherwise an outbreak of TB in the region is inevitable.

“TB can spread at an alarming rate among construction workers because they stay together in unhygienic conditions, suffer from malnourishment and stress — one of the main reasons for breakdown in immunity,” he said.

“TB spreads through droplet infections; a cough or sneeze can transfer the bacteria to another person.”

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