Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I suppose HIV status is passé for most of humankind unless one is or becomes a victim of the virus, or someone near or dear does. Fair enough. There are so many issues in life. Besides, HIV/AIDS basked in the spotlight of media and world attention in the 1980s and 90s. That is perhaps longer than a lot of other worthy issues have.

That said, it doesn't hurt to bring up the subject now and then as it remains a serious matter regardless of where it might be on the public's radar. In the UAE, in fact, it is not only a medical issue but a human rights one as well.

A scenario to consider... A person in the UAE goes in for medical screening (normally required when one applies for or renews a visa). The mandatory HIV screening shows up a posiitive--HIV+. This will automatically disqualify the person from receiving the visa or renewal. Department of Heath policy states,
HIV test is required for both new cases and visa renewal.
Test Interpretation: Positive result of the test will render the individual unfit to work in Dubai, U.A.E.
On the one level, so what? Why should a foreign applicant be granted a visa to live or work in the country when they are in some capacity not fit to do so? It is the prerogative of any country to admit who it pleases. Personally, I have no quarrels with this.

But what about in the case of visa renewal? In a country where perhaps as much as 90% of the resident population is foreign--non UAE passport holders--there are quite literally a million or more (of the total 5 million population) renewing visas and getting screened on an annual basis. Without researching the numbers, I would reasonably guess that a very large number of these renewals are for long-term resident expatriates.

Now, back to the scenario... Say, for example, a long-term resident has inadvertently and perhaps even unknowingly contracted the illness. Upon screening and being found HIV+, it isn't a case of simply being denied entry into the country. Instead, one is uprooted and expelled from the country. Regardless of what familial, financial and other commitments that person may have in the UAE, he/she is rather ruthlessly expelled.

There are stories of people being arrested at once and incarcerated, while immediate deportation proceedings are carried out. The person is hardly given the chance to make contact with family or loved ones much less make arrangements to relocate or settle their accounts--social, business, financial and otherwise.

Nightmare Scenario

Can you imagine! I don't think many take the time to think about what this must really be like. Ironically, it should make the impact of becoming aware that one is afflicted with this ailment seem almost trivial compared to the immediate trauma of being uprooted from one's life and livelihood.

That is where the question of human rights arises. If such stories are true, then it would mean that quite serious violations of human rights are occurring. I cannot even speculate on the number of cases there might be--if, again such stories are true. Sadly, for some, it would not even be a matter of repatriation, as there are among the expatriate population a percentage who were actually born here. To be forcibly deported from the country under such conditions would amount to forced banishment and exile from one's homeland.

My primary concern in this post is the human rights issue. But there is also a medical one, whereby such a draconian policy could in fact facilitate, rather than, impede the spread of HIV among the population. Just think about it--one may have reason to fear that he/she has contracted the virus. In most forward thinking societies the message is test, test, test! Know your status. But doing so--getting tested--in the UAE would risk facing the plight described above should one be so unfortunate as to have had contracted the ailment.

As a result of this fear--not of the disease but of government action--no one gets tested voluntarily in the country. One is practically forced to live with the virus untested and untreated, greatly increasing the risk of its further dissemination among the population. Touchet!

Dubai Cares... about what?

Shame on the UAE. I believe it is one of very few countries in the world with such draconian policy regarding HIV and AIDS. Now, what about Dubai's so called Health Care City. I am not sure that the word Care really belongs there. The country's stance on this issue is not only inhumane, but it also represents a potential failure to control the spread of the disease.


Recent reports speak of government plans to illiminate job discrimination against HIV+ individuals. Good news? Well, any such laws will be for the benefit of the 10% or so of the population who are UAE nationals. For the other 90% of the resident population, it remains a case of immediate arrest and deportation.

Free education, free medical care and other benefits bestowed upon the national population are well within the purview of any government. Little argument can be made that such privilages should be bestowed upon non-citizens. But a country does not have the right to treat its non-citizen resident population or even visitors in a manner such as that exercised against those found to be HIV+.

The Crux of the Matter:

UAE government policy is to...

  • deny the right to work or remain in country to any new arrival or new visa applicant found to be HIV+. Fair enough.

  • deny such rights to a person who has already established residency in the country who at some point is found to be HIV+. No, this is not fair.

  • incarcerate and immediately expell any non-citizen, resident or new arrival, from the country who is found to be HIV+. Absoluely criminal.

For further or more up-to-date info...

Feel free to scroll all the way to the bottom and start with the most recent comments.
I also welcome any personal mail to me at upandhi@gmail.com.

Best Wishes to All
B.D. (updated 12-Mar-2016)