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Dated TB Laws Do More Harm Than Good

On October 31, 2011

The social and medical effects of the GCC's controversial tuberculosis (TB) deportation laws may not be worth the supposed advantages.

The UAE deports individuals with active, new, or old pulmonary TB scars. Health officials claim to only deport newcomers, and not long-term residents. But this overzealous practice still disrupts the livelihoods of prospective employees and resident migrants.

Ana* is one of countless individuals unfairly affected by the GCC's dated TB laws. Accepted to work for Qatar airlines, the 27-year old Bulgarian submitted to regulatory medical tests to obtain her visa. She then underwent a second set of tests in Qatar, where they found a small scar on her lung. She was deported after endless testing, but doctors withheld the findings of her exams:

Nothing was given to me [in the form of] medical documentation. The explanation was - "it’s [a] government secret."

She returned to Bulgaria, fearing she had an incurable illness of some kind. But back home, doctors amusedly informed her that the scar was only the remnant of an old, healed TB infection. She was given preventative medication for six months and then accepted a job in the UAE, eager to join her Arab-born fiance. Yet, despite being medically fit and healthy, her visa was rejected.

But...even treatment and medical reports saying that I am medically fit, I cannot join my husband or even work. The...worst is that if I try to apply for [a] visa (non-tourist), they will reject me as unfit and banned me for life.

In cases involving healed TB infections such as Ana's, officials claim that deportation is necessary because old scars can be easily reactivated. However, the threat of old TB infections is contestable; relapse occurs in only 5 percent of cases. The law appears extreme in comparison to the minimal risk factor, rendering it an inefficient preventative measure. According to a study performed in the US, the practice of deportation may actually increase the spread of TB; the legal stigmatism discourages residents and illegals from reporting symptoms immediately, many citing fear of deportation as their rationale. This delay in treatment increase the opportunity for infection to spread.

Dr. Golub, a TB research specialist, performed the above-mentioned study evidencing the policy's counter-effective repercussions. Golub and colleagues advised a different approach to treating and handling cases of TB, one which would encourage individuals to come forward and receive treatment before their condition worsens or their infection spreads. Doctors noted that Dubai's large foreign work force renders the nation uniquely situated to affect total TB rates, adding that medication to cure the disease is inexpensive.

In 2010, the Ministry of Health intended to review the deportation law, but the practice, and the susceptibility to increased infection rates, remains. Ana, along with other deportees, is pressuring rights organizations and GCC governments to reccaliberate their laws with the reality of TB.

In response to their outdated fears, Ana asks policy makers: "Which century are TB doctors living in...?"


*Name has been changed