ABU DHABI // Residents of Abu Dhabi are still being required to undergo chest X-ray tests for tuberculosis when they renew their residency visas, despite federal regulations abolishing the practice.
Dubai and the northern emirates have ceased carrying out the tests, based on an amendment to the federal law issued in August last year and endorsed by the Ministry of Health, but the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad) has yet to do so.
A public health specialist in the preventive medicine department at the ministry said: "Only newcomers to the UAE must have a chest X-ray," adding that if Haad was not abiding by the law, "that is their decision as they might have their own rules."
Dr Mariam al Mulla, the regional officer for communicable diseases at Haad, said all new residents in Abu Dhabi, as well as those renewing their visas, must follow the emirate's visa screening standards, as set down by Haad, to receive their medical fitness certificate.
"[This is] in order to increase the detection of TB cases, treat them as early as possible and trace their contacts to reduce the risk of transmission in the community," she said.
If a patient is diagnosed with active TB, said Dr al Mulla, he will be admitted to hospital for isolation and treatment until the disease is no longer infectious.
"Generally, if the applicant is considered unfit based on the test results, then Haad's responsibility is to notify the Ministry of Interior for their action," she added.
The Dubai Health Authority (DHA), however, stressed that it has adopted the August 2010 amendment to the federal law that releases health authorities from requiring the testing for visa renewal.
A technician at the radiology department of the preventive medicine clinic at Al Baraha Hospital in Dubai, a centre authorised to conduct medical testing for visas, confirmed: "Expatriates only have to do a blood test to renew their visa".
Dr Hassan Shurie, consultant and head of technical services at the DHA's medical fitness department, said: "We have effectively implemented the new law since November 2010.
"As per Law No 28 of 2010, TB testing is a part of the medical fitness requirement for those people who are getting their work permit or residency visa for the first time. This no longer applies for renewal of visas," he said.
For residents who cancel their visa or change their sponsor, and then return back to their home countries, a chest X-ray will be required for a new UAE visa.
This is because many expatriate workers live in countries where TB is prevalent. Given the three month incubation period, they could be carrying the disease without showing symptoms, Dr Shurie said.
Dr Ibrahim Alqadi, the director of preventive medicine at the Ministry of Health, said the law should have been adopted nationwide "one or two months ago".
He also said he was not aware Haad was still testing for TB for visa renewals and he would have to "check with them to clarify the issue".
Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the ministry's executive director of health policies, said he had no explanation as to why Haad continued to test for TB for visa renewals.
"After the law was passed, we circulated it to the different health authorities and they are responsible for implementing it," he said.
Expatriates have said that the medical requirements for visa renewal continue to be confusing.
Shahreen Chowdhury, from Bangladesh, is a resident of Sharjah and her husband works in Dubai. The couple do not know what to expect when they renew their visa in June.
"I think there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to clarity, especially if you're an expat," she said.
"The UAE is the gateway to the western world so the more clarity there is in terms of procedures to live here, the better it is for the Middle East and North Africa region."
She said expatriate forums were saturated with questions concerning TB testing for visa renewals.
Tariq G, an Abu Dhabi resident, called for more clarity in the TB deportation law in an online discussion: "We were informed that chest X-rays were no longer compulsory yet the health authority is apparently acting otherwise."