Every three years, along with hundreds of thousands of other expats, I must renew my UAE residency visa — a process that’s as convoluted as it is archaic. Despite the fact that most of the bureaucratic grunt-work is done by somebody else, my family and I are still required to subject ourselves to blood tests that screen for various diseases.
No, I’m not squeamish about blood being drawn from my arm, nor do I think the process is particularly painful, but I do believe that it’s unnecessary and seriously infringes on my privacy.
[ Please note that questions related to health matters will NOT be answered within the comments section of this post. You are advised to contact a UAE consular representative in your own country for more information. ]
According to the Dubai Health Authority’s website:
The Dubai Health Authority provides a quality Medical Fitness screening service to all non-locals living in Dubai the luxurious city everyone seeks to reside to experience a comfortable lifestyle. This service is available to those who would like to obtain a new visa or renew an existing visa for employment, residency or education.
I don’t quite know what a subjective statement like: “Dubai the luxurious city everyone seeks to reside to experience a comfortable lifestyle” aims to achieve on a medical website, but I’m sure it was written by the same people who run Dubai’s tourism campaigns.
The website goes on to say that the screening tests are based on the Federal Laws of the country to “assure a healthy living environment where the whole community is protected against infectious disease that may be a threat to the public health.” And because the residency visa is tied to the employer, the tests are a non-negotiable element of life in Dubai.
There are many conflicting reports as to what gets tested, not even the nurse who took my blood was able to say conclusively. However, the following list makes reference to information collected by the Dubai FAQ website:
I guess I didn’t give it much thought before moving to the UAE, but I now realize that I fundamentally object to any government having access to my biological data or DNA — DNA that could have been harvested from my blood samples. After all, there is no central authority policing what happens to the blood or my results — I certainly don’t remember reading a disclaimer stating that my medical data will remain confidential. For all I know a DNA database already exists and is being shared with other like-minded international organizations.
I challenge anyone in the UAE to prove to me with 100% confidence that once the Health Authority has screened my blood for the diseases listed above, that the blood sample is destroyed and disposed of in a way so as to make it impossible to deduct or infer any other information or biological data.
As a professional working in Dubai, I’m subjected to a whole list of tests that infringe on my medical privacy. After all, divulging my medical particulars to 3rd party organizations isn’t something I signed up for. It seems that the UAE is quite paranoid about the health of its residents, and yet almost 10 million tourists are allowed to freely enter the country to engage in all sorts of activities without so much as a flu vaccination.
With the exception of Tuberculosis and Leprosy, it’s clear that the tests target conditions and diseases typically associated with sex. I ask you, who has more to loose in this situation: the expatriate who has built a successful life in the Emirate or the frivolous tourist who is there for a quick all-you-can-eat, drink, shop and seduce stopover? And so, there is nothing standing in the way of a tourist with HIV, Hepatitis or Syphilis slipping into the country for night of unbridled passion. It seems silly to screen only residents considering that tourists have next to no incentives to avoid unprotected promiscuity.
If the UAE government is serious about maintaining “a healthy living environment where the whole community is protected against infectious disease that may be a threat to the public health,” (their words, not mine) it should extend the same screening procedures to all tourists that enter the country. Doing any less is just a joke and turns the resident screening procedure into an unnecessary farce. Either screen everybody or nobody.