Abu Dhabi/Dubai: Hepatitis C patients in the UAE are anxious, wondering whether their days in the country are numbered as the Ministry of Health mulls a decision whether to deny them residency.

The ministry on Tuesday decided to hold off on implementing a mandatory check for Hepatitis C during residency medical exams and thereby denying expatriates who test positive their resident permit.

Gulf News reported on April 21 the Health Ministry planned to add the blood-borne disease to the list of deportable diseases on July 1.

Residents with the disease told Gulf News they have been living with a sense of dread while waiting for the ministry's final decision. All asked to remain anonymous due to the stigma.

A 50-year-old expatriate midwife, who has the antibodies but is no longer infected with the virus, told Gulf News the debate whether or not she could stay in the country made her 'angry'.

"I don't think people understand what Hepatitis C is; it's not as dangerous as Hepatitis B. When I was first diagnosed the doctor told me I don't even need to be here," she said.

"If the ministry decides to deport people who have the condition, it should be on individual basis decision; not everyone is a carrier. And there are people like me who have the antibodies but cannot infect," she added.

No threat

A 41-year-old business executive from Egypt told Gulf News he needed to stay and work in the UAE to support himself and his family. The virus is currently dormant.

"I have a debt to the bank of more than Dh300,000 and I'm settling it due to my ability to work in the UAE. If the ministry decides to deport expatriates with Hepatitis C, I will not be able to pay off my debt and will evidently get into trouble," he said.

"I don't feel I'm a threat, my job mostly involves a keyboard. I'm not a chef or a doctor whose job involves more interaction than mine. I don't donate blood and don't think I'm a dangerous person," he added.

Dozens of thalassaemia patients have contracted Hepatitis C from tainted blood supplies in the UAE. People with the genetic blood disorder have to undergo a blood transfusion every three weeks.

Saeed Jafar Al Awadi, board member of the Emirates Thalassaemia Society, had previously vowed to fight to prevent any policy requiring deportation of Hepatitis C patients.

"They cannot [take] the decision for thalassaemia patients with Hepatitis C. It is unfair because they only have the disease through our mistake. They never had the disease until they came here," he told Gulf News earlier.

An Emirati housewife with the disease feels the same way, telling Gulf News denying infected expatriates their residency visas was not the way to solve the health problem.

"In most cases, Hepatitis C is spread without the person knowing. It is not right to generalise the condition and to stereotype against it. Banning expatriates with dormant Hepatitis C would not be correct nor will it stop the condition from spreading," she said.

A senior official from the Ministry of Health told Gulf News there was slim chance of the policy passing. "It will not work. If they did it, no Arab will come to this country," he said. Some Arab nationals have a higher prevalence of Hepatitis C due to tainted medical and blood supplies in their countries.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is the inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection, usually as a result of contact with infected body fluids such as blood transfusions or invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment.

The symptoms of hepatitis include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In many countries where the virus is highly endemic, unsafe injection practice accounts for a significant proportion of infections.

A total of 262 cases out of 100,000 population rate in 2007 have been reported to have viral Hepatitis C, according to a report issued by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) from the Preventive Medicine Department. Dubai Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms) reported 158 cases of Hepatitis C in 2006.

Do you think this is a suitable course of action? Should there be an option of treating them in the UAE? Tell us at letter2editor@gulfnews.com or fill in the form below to send your comments

Your comments

I think Hepatitis B and C positive people should go through a proper check up to ensure the severity of the infection. Every Hepatitis B and C is not infectious. The deportation should be decided on the viral load in the blood. My sister who is in India is a Hepatitis B by birth whose viral load is very low and she is not infectious. She has a child which again is not infected. So in this case why deport them back. When she approached a doctor she was not prescribed any medication as her liver conditions were normal. And doctor said she can lead a normal life like any other person. I think Hepatitis positive expatriates should be asked to go through viral load before thay are deported. And health Authorities must study these cases well before passing on the deportation bill.
Posted: July 06, 2008, 10:15

I would request to the authorities through you people that my mother has also Hyp-C, and she is dependent on me only. Please don't put a ban for such patients or consider such cases and allow parents at least as they are not working just staying in UAE with there children.
Posted: July 06, 2008, 09:29

If the person got this he should not be deported to his origin. He should be treated first because it is not right to treat people as if they are just a rag, when it cannot be used it will be thrown out. They should be treated properly. I hope there is a foundation who will help this kind of patients.
Posted: July 06, 2008, 09:26

The only decease that have to be deported is HIV
Abu Dhabi,UAE
Posted: July 06, 2008, 07:42

Many people settle there business, and they invest money here so its very pain full for them to be sick and loose everything so they should be treated here.
Posted: July 06, 2008, 07:27

It is not a suitable course of action to deport people who are not dangerous to the society. They should be helped and treated in anyway possible.
Posted: July 06, 2008, 07:24

I think it is a wild action to deport the patient with HCV positive. The vaccines are available all over the world and the treatment only takes six month and, in many cases the patient becomes normal. If foreigner will be deported and they get treatment at their home country, then it will not only disturb him financially but also physically. So any person with any nation should live him here in UAE, and instead, the government should help him in making treatments.
Al Ain,UAE
Posted: July 06, 2008, 01:12