Tuberculosis in the UAE: A danger to your health and your livelihood
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Tuberculosis in the UAE: A danger to your health and your livelihood

Tuberculosis is a major disease worldwide, but in recent years the UAE has been an especially problematic place to develop the disease. Find out more about why this is with this in depth overview of tuberculosis in the UAE.

Spring has sprung! And while this signals the beginning of some of the best months for people to visit the United Arab Emirates, it is still a time in which we can reflect on our blessings, like the ability to freely breathe (even on days when the air isn’t the clearest). In many other countries, spring brings to mind the blossoming of flowers, which in turn reminds many of allergies, wheezing and coughing. Perhaps because of this, the United Nations took the opportunity to create an awareness day for a serious respiratory disease mere days after the official start of the spring season. That’s right; Thursday, March 24th (which is today if you are reading this article on the day it is being released) is once again United Nations World Tuberculosis Day!

Here, we will dive into the causes and symptoms of Tuberculosis (also known as TB) and how it is affecting people all around the world and in the UAE both physically and legally.


What is tuberculosis?

With evidence of the disease being around as many as 17,000 years ago, tuberculosis has been a disease that people have been dealing with for a very long time. Today TB is one of the top infectious diseases globally. In fact, in 2014 alone, cases of TB approached nearly ten million cases, of which about 1.5 million of those infected died of the condition. Even scarier for people today, in that same year nearly half a million cases of TB were caused by a form that was resistant to multiple kinds of drugs that are normally used effectively for treatment. Needless to say, tuberculosis is a concern for people, doctors, and governments all over the world.

The disease itself is bacterial in nature and most commonly can be found in an infected individual’s lungs due to the airborne nature in which it is spread. As intimidating as TB is, one of the most interesting aspects of the disease is that most of the people exposed to it never develop any symptoms. However, they become carriers of the disease and can still transmit it to others. TB can become active and symptoms will start to appear once a carrier’s immune system is weakened, which can happen for a number of reasons. Left unchecked, TB will then have a strong impact on organs in the body, destroy tissue within those organs, and likely become fatal.

Symptoms of tuberculosis include:

  • Chest pain

  • Night sweats

  • Fever

  • Weight loss

  • General feeling of being unwell

  • Being short of breath

  • Cough with or without blood

  • Fatigue

In order to determine if a person has TB, a simple skin test can be done in virtually any doctor's office. After a quick visit and pin prick, whether or not a person has TB can be determined within a few days. If TB is detected, additional tests, including X-rays, will likely be required.

Once contracted, dormant TB is normally treated with antibiotics to prevent it from becoming active. This type of treatment can last as long as 9 months or more depending on its effectiveness. For patients with active tuberculosis a combination of even stronger antibiotics will be used for treatment. The same goes for incidences of drug resistant TB.


Tuberculosis in the UAE

The incidence of tuberculosis in the United Arab Emirates is not high. The most recent available data provided by the World Bank from 2014 reveals that the rate of TB infection in the UAE is about 2 in 100,000 people, which is down from about 12 in 100,000 people in the year 2000. How did this dramatic decrease occur? As it happens, it is because the government took drastic action to make sure TB infection fell, although the method by which this was accomplished has drawn criticism from some.

Ever since the passage of Federal Law Number 7 in 2008, and subsequent UAE Ministerial Decree Number 28 in 2010, people that are found to have any indication of currently or previously having tuberculosis will not be granted visas for entry into the country. This riled potential expats whose visa applications were denied even though they were never even aware that they carried the disease to begin with. Nevertheless, indicators such as scar tissue in the lungs found on X-rays were grounds for visas to not be approved. Furthermore, expats in the UAE that were found to have tuberculosis after legally entering the country were likely to be deported. Regardless of how long an individual have been in the UAE, their whole life there could be tossed aside as they were banned from the country.

Recently, though, changes have been made to this policy. Since January 27th, 2016 those found to have TB which has been cured will be able to receive sponsorship from family members that will allow them to stay in the UAE. Some special classes, such as expatriate students, major investors and diplomats, will be exempt from this sponsorship requirement. Going hand-in-hand with this change, however, is another change that will now require all those applying for visas in the UAE to undergo TB screening each time they renew their visa, whereas previously these individuals would only be tested when the visa was first issued.

Those with active TB take note: The same restrictions are in place for those with active TB, but now, rather than deportation, residents with active TB who are applying for a visa will likely receive a 1 year provisional visa that will give them the opportunity to get the disease treated before they are issued a longer term document.

Another recent development with regards to people with active TB in Dubai specifically is that, thanks to ministerial Decree Number 5 of March 2016, Dubai residents and their family members in the Emirate are now eligible to receive tuberculosis treatment free of charge at any Dubai Ministry of Health and Prevention designated treatment centres. Other diseases are also covered by the Decree, including HIV, syphilis, hepatitis and leprosy.


Protection from tuberculosis

Recent global efforts to stem the spread of TB have seen some positive results. Since the year 2000, incidence of TB worldwide has dropped by an average of 1.5% per year, leading to an overall drop of 18% over the past decade and a half.

Some steps that can be taken to protect yourself and others from tuberculosis are as follows:

  • Get your children vaccinated. Vaccines are available that lower the chances of contracting tuberculosis by 20%, and lower the risk of dormant TB becoming active by almost 60%. The Tuberculosis vaccine is actually the most widely used vaccine globally, with 90% of all children today receiving it.

  • If you know anyone with TB, especially if you live with them, do your best to encourage them to obtain and follow proper treatments.

  • Avoid spending extended periods of time in enclosed areas with anyone that has TB until they have been sufficiently treated. Usually this will take at least 2 weeks of treatment.

  • People who work in facilities with people being treated for TB should be sure to wear proper protection, such as face masks.

Of course, tuberculosis is found all over the world, and despite our best efforts it may be something that we or our loved ones may contract some day. For this reason it is important to have a comprehensive health insurance plan available to obtain treatments without breaking the bank. For expats in Dubai, it may be wise to specifically obtain International Health Insurance coverage, because, as mentioned above, legal status for expats with active TB in the UAE can be murky at times, and it may become necessary to receive treatment in another country.

While some emirates, such as Dubai, now require that all people in the territory have their own private medical insurance, government mandated minimum benefits may not always meet the needs of treating a disease such as TB which can take nearly a year to recover from. For this reason, if you have any questions about your current or potential private medical insurance policy, contact the experts at UAE Medical Insurance. Not only can they provide you with plan options that best address your needs, they can also give you free price quotations.


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