By GEOFFREY BEW Published: 30 October 2007

A SYSTEM designed to detect illness among expatriates could actually be contributing to the spread of disease, according to a new study.

The study found fear of deportation was preventing many sick expatriate workers in Bahrain from seeking treatment.

It said 87,000 migrant workers were tested last year, which is an average of 350 workers per day, but many undocumented workers fled during the testing process over fears of being declared unfit.

The report states the language barrier between health workers and expatriates could also encourage people to run away - also leading to the spread of disease.

The State of Health Report on Mandatory Testing was carried out by the Co-ordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM) Asia.

"Unfortunately, one of the strategies to deal with an unfit status or potentially negative results is to become a runaway or illegal worker," says the 18-pages study.

"These people notoriously end up in jobs with the worst conditions."

"Fear of deportation because of health problems also prevents workers who may have communicable illnesses from seeking treatment, which may be inadvertently leading to the spread of diseases."

The findings indicated few patients found to have treatable illnesses were informed about treatment referrals.

The report also says a major problem facing workers who receive tests was a lack of "language diversity" among health officials.

"Gulf Approved Medical Centres Association (GAMCA) guidelines do not require staff to be able to speak migrants' languages, although both health professionals and migrant workers mentioned this as an area for potential improvement in the mandatory health testing system," it says.

"According to a doctor from a private testing centre frequently used by migrant workers, language barriers contribute to the lack of information provided to workers by medical personnel at testing centres."

The report, which took three months to research, was carried out through interviews with all parties involved in mandatory testing by officials from the now-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Vice-president Nabeel Rajab said human rights activists were now waiting for a response from government ministries and embassies that had received copies of the report.

Mr Rajab added the study, which involved 16 countries and included Bahrain for the first time, would become an important evaluation tool of testing procedures in the coming years.

The report revealed that Bahrain did not require migrant workers to undergo pre-departure health tests unless they are from certain African countries.

"While some recruitment agencies and some countries' officials recommend and in some cases require it, in our research findings there was little evidence of a standardised process of pre-departure testing for migrant workers," it says.

"Some had undergone testing in their home countries and others had not."

"For a number of respondents, pre-departure testing appeared to give a sense of security or legitimacy, but for other workers the fear of being prevented from temporarily migrating for employment made them avoid health testing in their home country or trying to manipulate the results."

Bahrain follows the mandatory health testing of migrant workers in line with the rules and regulations of the GAMCA.

Recruitment

The report focused on the pre-departure testing, accessibility to treatment and the care and support for migrant workers, testing procedures and the handling of results and reintegration.

It states there are 268,951 expatriates in Bahrain who make up more than 50 per cent of the country's workforce, making it a major destination country for migrant workers.

The report says after arriving in Bahrain all construction workers and labourers are referred to the government's centralised health facility for migrant workers, the Al Razi Health Centre.

It concludes the origin and destination countries should ratify the United Nations Migrant Workers Convention and the governments of expat workers needed to unite to affect changes in the policies and practices of labour recruitment, which would benefit and protect migrant workers' rights and health.

The report says governments in the Gulf and Asia must also fulfil their responsibilities to protect workers, rather than consider them merely as economic units.

"Destination countries must also discard HIV status as an exclusionary condition and cease the practice of forcibly deporting HIV positive migrants to prevent the further stigmatisation and marginalisation of migrant workers," it says.

geoff@gdn.com.bh

? Gulf Daily News