'Ban on newcomers with TB scar outdated'

A report published by Gulf News highlights the fact that newcomers in the UAE whose chest X-ray shows old TB scars are banned from the country for life, as mandated by the UAE federal law.

However, doctors and health experts say that those with old scars are not dangerous to the society and should not be banned from the country.

The issue comes to the fore, following a complaint by a resident whose wife was denied a visa for having an old TB scar, despite the fact that she is completely cured and healthy.

TB scars mainly arise when the outer layer of the lung has been infected in the past and not necessarily by TB. Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection that mainly involves the lungs and could be spread easily when the infected person sneeze, cough, talk or spit.

However, when the condition becomes old, it is referred to as an old pulmonary TB, which according to Dr Prasad Kunnumbrath, TB and chest specialist at NMC Speciality Hospital, who has worked with patients with TB for the past 18 years, indicates that the person once had TB but is now completely cured.

"Chances of TB returning to patients, who once had it, are exactly the same as chances of TB affecting those who never had it. There's no medical rational for considering a person unfit for having an old pulmonary TB (which in many cases leaves a scar)," said Dr Kunnumbrath.

UAE Ministerial decree's 28/2010 and 7/2008 indicate that all newcomers who have been found to have active or old pulmonary TB in a chest X-ray are denied a fitness certificate since they are considered "unfit".

"I would understand why active TB cases could pose a threat to society, since it's contagious, however when a patient is found to have a scar in a chest X-ray it doesn't necessarily mean it's due to TB. It only means the pervious infection's such as pneumonia, have produced a scar," he said.

Health officials when contended with the fact admitted that the practice is outdated and should be done away with, while indicating that they are bound by the law.

"The current laws applied in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is according to the federal regulations for medical fitness certificate applied in the UAE. The same regulation is applied in other Emirates and GCC countries," Dr Farida Al Hosani, Section Head of Communicable Diseases at HAAD said.

Dr Farida went on to say: "Fortunately the rates of TB in the UAE are low compared to other countries, however the main challenge is to monitor the majority of workers coming from countries with high prevalence of TB [Asia and Africa].

"HAAD statistics show that newcomers to the country have around 20 folds high rates of TB, and this is a huge risk to the resident and national population."

The regulations mandate a hospital with an active TB case to alert the health authorities within 24 hours.

"If a patient is diagnosed with a scar and investigations prove that he/she has no symptoms and is clinically fit, we rule out the idea of him/her being a threat to society. However, according to the federal law, the government deports such persons," explained the doctor.

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