GCC Closes Door on Chronically ill Expats




JEDDAH – Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries have decided to only hire expatriates who are medically fit, to reduce pressure on their health services.

This follows reports that about 10 percent of 2 million workers recruited annually by these states suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

“The member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council have jointly decided not to recruit workers suffering from chronic diseases in their bid to reduce pressure on their health facilities,” said Tawfik Khoja, director general of the Gulf Health Ministers Council.

However, he said such foreign workers have not posed any threat to public health in the GCC so far. “We have closed 11 authorized medical test centers in foreign countries temporarily and three centers permanently for violating regulations,” he said, adding that the decision was taken by the central committee.

GCC-approved medical test centers are now open in 18 countries including India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Egypt. These countries send the largest number of workers to the six Gulf countries.

“Saudi health authorities found 14 workers medically unfit after tests in the Kingdom soon after their arrival and sent them back to their countries,” Khoja said. Medical tests in foreign countries help to block those with dangerous and infectious diseases before recruitment.
“But these tests will not be sufficient to diagnose for diseases such as cancer, which requires specialized tests,” Khoja said, adding that such tests would increase the cost of recruiting a single worker to SR60,000. “We conduct a second test after the arrival of the worker and this helps to identify diseases not detected in his or her country,” he said.

He said a meeting with Health Ministry officials would be held next month to discuss better measures that would ensure the recruitment of workers who are physically and mentally fit, and do not have any infectious or chronic diseases.

“The measures we have taken in the past have helped reduce the number of sick workers from 25 percent a few years ago to five percent last year,” Khoja said. The rules and regulations for medical tests have been updated during a meeting of the central committee, which was held in Manama from Nov. 11 to 13.

“It has decided to reduce the upper limit of violations committed by a medical test center before imposing punishment,” he said. — ArabNews

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