Expat medical tests prior to arrival in UAE

The Ministry of Health will require expatriates to undergo medical testing first in their home countries, then again once they reach the Emirates, in a scheme to eliminate contagious diseases.

DUBAI - AUGUST 19,2010 - Dr. Mahmood Fikri , Executive Director for Health Policies ,Ministry of Health annnounced the latest amendments to expats medical check ups during press briefing at the Ministry of Health office in Dubai. ( Paulo Vecina/The National )

DUBAI // People seeking to move to the UAE will be required to undergo medical testing before arriving, under Ministry of Health guidelines announced yesterday.

The regulations were aimed at ensuring that expatriates were free from infectious diseases, officials said. Applicants will also need to take a second check-up in the UAE before obtaining their residency visa.

During a meeting this week held by the Ministerial Council for Services, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, directed the ministry to make the changes. The ministry said it was working to implement them.

Last night it was not known what countries would be affected by the new regulations.

"The new procedure comes as part of the efforts of the UAE to achieve health security and maintain public health safety through ensuring the exemption of all newcomers - labourers and residents in the UAE - from infectious diseases," said Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the assistant undersecretary for health policies at the Ministry of Health.

The move followed news last month of an apparent rise in HIV infection among expatriates in Dubai. The rates of HIV among those seeking new or renewed visas appeared to rise sharply in the first three months of this year, with 88 cases recorded, almost half the total for the whole of previous year, according to the Dubai Health Authority.

Expatriates who test positive for HIV are automatically deported.

"We lately noticed that the percentages of infectious diseases increased among certain categories," Dr Fikri said.

He stressed that the current medical tests had been efficient for more than 30 years at ensuring low rates of infectious diseases.

Testing expatriates in their home countries for diseases such as tuberculosis would avoid the spread of the virus in the UAE, he said.

"The Ministry of Health is co-ordinating with the health authorities in the UAE to arrange several visits to ... Asian countries so as to get acquainted with their preparations for the required tests, accuracy and safety of health data and the best adequate methods for transferring the information to the health authorities immediately," he said.

"The countries applying this system will be the Asian countries that have a great number of infectious diseases."

Dr Farida Hosani, the acting section head of communicable diseases at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi said: "This initiative was proposed five years ago, and since then we have studied the best practices and benchmarked with countries such as the US and the UK.

"We also consulted with other GCC countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and carried out field visits to find out how the system worked for them."

She added: "Another key point is that it can sometimes take a month after an expatriate has arrived to find out if they have an infectious disease, and this exposes other workers and the wider community. We believe this will improve the monitoring process and it will be effective."

The new initiative would be implemented in stages since it required the involvement of more than one party, but the decision was a much-needed catalyst, Dr Farida said.

"We are still doing assessments for what is the best approach to take and will tackle it in stages since it involves quite a few ministries such as the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Immigration.

"The decision and approval is a big move forward, and we are both happy and supportive."

Some expatriates voiced concerns about the accuracy of results, while others said they were worried about an increased hassle when the system takes effect.

"I think the results here in the UAE are guaranteed to be accurate, but if tests are undertaken in other countries there is a risk of accuracy," said Halim Boumadani, 31, an operation manager from Algeria. "It also depends on whether those medical certificates have to be attested, which could make it more complicated."

John Cristobal, 26, from the Philippines, said: "I believe it is better to do the test once, but it sounds like expatriates have to do the test twice now and that is not very practical."

Another resident said the system could potentially save expatriates the cost of travelling to a new country, only to be rejected if they failed their health test.

"I think doing a medical test before coming is a good thing because the results will save time and money for expatriates, especially if they fail the health exam," said Haytham El Noar, 35, a senior planning manager from Egypt.

"Similar systems have been implemented in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and it seems to have worked well there."