Health experts have called for better education and improved living conditions for workers coming to the GCC amid startling figures that show 25 percent of the two million expatriates which arrive in the Gulf on average every year suffer from an infectious disease.
The figures, provided by the Dubai Health Authority to raise awareness ahead of the Arab Health Congress next month, show the range of diseases include influenza, chicken pox, hepatitis, TB, malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, food borne disease and fecal-oral transmission diseases.
Dr Wasif Muhammad Alam, Director, Public Health & Safety, Dubai Health Authority, said the figures related mostly to expatriates from developing countries such as India and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, with chicken pox, food-borne diseases and influenza the biggest concern.
He said a lack of education and no knowledge of preventative care and “common sense” hygiene such as washing hands and safe storage of food was to blame.
However, he also singled out housing conditions where six to eight men were sometimes sleeping in the same room as contributing to the spread of disease.
Dr Alam said he did not have a breakdown, but “assumed” the rates were “about the same” across the GCC countries, because the population mix of workers from developing countries was similar.
“It is high considering the fact all these workers who come in the Gulf countries have almost no education, so they have no knowledge of… how to protect themselves from infectious diseases,” he told Arabian Business.
“If somebody has it then it spreads quite easily, because they have very little sense of how to keep themselves away from such infections.”
Dr Alam, who said he was not worried about expats from western countries where health standards were higher, said better screening programs for deadly diseases such as HIV, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis in Asian and African countries and in the GCC had “dramatically reduced” infection rates of the three diseases.
However, for other infectious diseases more awareness programs for both employers and workers were needed to bring down the rates, along with better living conditions.
Dr Alam did not believe expanding the screening program was the solution, saying it was not cost effective to screen for every disease and education was instead needed.
He said plans by Dubai to introduce mandatory health insurance from next year would likely encourage more expats to seek out health care, including preventative care such as flu vaccines.
“Employers were not giving them the health coverage and so they were left out from getting early on treatment and periodic medical examinations,” he said. “Now, with this new policy each one of those and every employers has to give health insurance for these workers.”
Rasha Salama, Senior Specialist, Public Health, DHA, said while standards of healthcare were generally high in Dubai, communicable diseases were still a concern and plans were ongoing to control and eradicate them.
“Early warning of emerging and re-emerging infections depends on our ability to identify unusual patterns and occurrences as early as possible,” she said. “Information exchange and collaboration with GCC countries is, therefore, essential.”
Emerging Diseases of Public Health: Strategies and Interventions Conference will take place as part of the Arab Health Exhibition & Congress on January 27 and 28 at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre.