Dubai: An expatriate who was denied a residence visa because her medical test indicated old tuberculosis (TB) scars has claimed that she has never suffered from the disease.

Jennifer (name changed to protect identity), 27, worked in the UAE’s food and beverage and fashion industry from 2011 to 2013. She then returned to her home country. This year, Jennifer returned to the UAE after accepting a job offer.

A panel that examined the Jennifer's medical test report has confirmed that the scars on her lungs are from TB.

UAE ministerial decree No 28 of 2010 and Federal Law No 7 of 2008 state that all newcomers found to have active or old pulmonary TB in a chest X-ray will be denied a fitness certificate since they are considered ‘unfit’ for residency.

Jennifer told Gulf News that she came to the UAE in 2011 and began working in the food and beverage section of a leading group. “My medical test never showed any scars then,” she claimed.

Jennifer then changed jobs and joined a fashion group in a free zone. The medical test for the visa change was still clear.

In 2013, she decided to join a company in Qatar and exited the UAE. “I had a medical examination for the Qatar job in my home country, which was clear,” Jennifer said.

However, she later decided not to take up the Qatar job as she found the salary package unattractive.

‘Surprised by outcome’

In 2015, Jennifer re-entered the UAE and went for a medical test at the Muhaisnah Health Centre. It was there that she was told that she would have to leave the country on account of old TB scars.

“My parents are doctors and I am very well aware of TB. No one in my family has ever had TB and I am surprised by this outcome,” Jennifer said.

Second opinion

Jennifer went to the Iranian Hospital for a second medical test. The report given to her by a specialist at the hospital’s infectious diseases department, read: “No cough, no sputum, no fever, only positive in the gold quantiferon test [diagnostic tools to diagnose latent TB infection]. The findings are suggestive that there is no active TB.”

The doctor recommended a six-week course of medication. However, when contacted, she declined to comment on the issue.

Gulf News discussed case with a senior physician in the private sector, who pointed out that sometimes old TB scars pose a re-infection risk and the authorities prefer not to take a chance.

“There is a 10 per cent chance of an infection returning and the authorities have to ensure that the individual does not infect others. But sometimes other pulmonary infections can mimic TB scars. The bacillus that causes pleuritis or pneumonia has been seen to rapidly mutate and cause clinical confusion about the patient having TB. So, if the blood and sputum report is negative, an antibiotic course of eight weeks can clear the shadow in the lungs,” he said.

DHA view

Commenting on Jennifer’s case, a spokesperson at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) told Gulf News: “After examination, a medical committee confirmed it is a case of old TB. The unfit medical certificate was issued in line with the UAE ministerial decree 28/2010 and the UAE Federal law 7/2008 which states that new visas with old TB or active TB are to be considered unfit by law.”

Jennifer, who has started on the medication prescribed by the doctor, is distressed that she will have to leave the country if the government health centre does not give her a clean chit when she hopes to take another medical test in two weeks.

Breaking down, she said: “I can say a million times that I have never had TB, but these people will not believe me.”

Financial problems

She attributes the current situation to treatment she sought after a car accident a few weeks prior to the medical test.

“After the accident I had a constant headache. Someone advised me to go for Al Hijama [traditional method of treatment through cupping]. My headache disappeared, but I think that the treatment had some contamination which left me with some infection.”

“I am at my wit’s end. I really need this job. My mother has cancer and I have a bank loan that I still have to repay,” Jennifer said.

She claims that she started working for the new company, but is yet to get her first salary. “I have no money to pay even taxi fare to the health clinic. I would like to request the authorities to give me time to do a third medical examination so that I can prove that I have no TB. I need this money and this job.”

What is tuberculosis?

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the disease is caused by the myo bacterium tuberculosis that usually attacks the lungs. It is spread through the air from one person to another. If not treated properly, it can be fatal.

What are TB scars?

Scarring of the lung tissue simply means that the tissue has been converted to hard, fibrous tissue. Scarring of the lung is also called pulmonary fibrosis. Things such as smoking can cause scarring of the lung tissue, but tuberculosis is one of the more common causes of pulmonary fibrosis.

What the law says

According to UAE Ministerial Decree No 28 of 2008 and Federal Law No 7 of 2010 regarding prevention of communicable diseases, all expatriates applying for a new residence visa must be free of infectious diseases. However, certain infectious diseases merit deportation while, in some others, treatment is indicated.

The list is as follows:

HIV/Aids: If found positive, visa is rejected and there is immediate deportation

Hepatitis B: This test is now meant for certain categories of new visas such as barbers, beauticians, nannies, nurses and food handlers. If found positive there are categories under which an individual can be treated and allowed to stay, treated and then deported or deported straight away. This is done on a case-by-case basis

Hepatitis C: Not tested for anyone

Leprosy: If results are positive, individual is deported

Syphyllis: Positive individuals are treated, not deported

Tuberculosis: This test is advised in case of expats seeking new residence visas and not for visa renewal. Any scars of active or inactive pulmonary TB found in the lung merits either deportation or treatment as per WHO protocol and then deportation.

Source: Dubai Health Authority (DHA)