Muscat: Oman’s Ministry of Health has said that a decision to introduce compulsory chest X-rays for all expats who renew their employment visas is to screen for tuberculosis (TB) in the country.
In addition, the ministry has said that unless the cases they come across are very serious, expats who are found to have TB will be treated for free. A senior health ministry official added that the move was taken as part of the ongoing campaign to tackle TB.
Before the new rule was implemented, expats were obliged to provide a chest X-ray on arrival, when receiving their first employment visa.
Speaking to Times of Oman, Dr Mohammed Al Yazidi, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the Ministry of Health, said: “This procedure has started to enhance the TB disease elimination strategy in Oman. Some people say that we are implementing procedures only for expats, or that this is a way of focusing on them. This is not true. The procedure is simply needed here because some expats come from countries where they might be exposed to the illness.”
According to the MoH’s latest report from 2017, that year had the lowest number of tuberculosis cases on record, with 196 cases of pulmonary tuberculosis and 72 cases of extra-pulmonary tuberculosis.
This is in comparison to 221 cases of pulmonary tuberculosis and 124 cases of extrapulmonary tuberculosis in 2016, and 211 and 108 cases in 2015, with cases steadily decreasing as the Sultanate works to eliminate the disease. In 2017, most cases were recorded in April and May, with 26 cases occurring in April and 31 cases during May of that year.
Al Yazidi explained that the ministry uses various procedures to deal with patients, depending on the results of the X-ray scan, which include free treatment. However, expats who showed extremely critical cases of TB would face removal from the country.
“If you do not have an advanced case or you are not within the high-risk job categories, you will be fit for residency upon treatment guaranteed by the sponsor,” he added, explaining that in this case, a residency would be approved but that the sponsor must guarantee employee treatment,” said Al Yazidi.
“However, the ministry will intervene free of charge to treat people who have active cases,” added Al Yazidi.
A number expats hoping to renew their work visas had been surprised to see a new sign at health check-up centres, requiring them to take an X-ray before their blood test.
Sanjeev, an expat in Oman, had not been aware that this procedure is needed when he went for his check-up.
“It was just an extra X-ray and didn’t take much time to finish,” he told Times of Oman. “I’m just glad I didn’t test positive for anything.”
Zahir, another expat said: “Whatever the Ministry’s reason for implementing the new move, it is the duty of every company to inform its employees about the new change. Imagine the shock an employee gets once he is told by the PRO of the new rule.
“It does not make much difference for employees who are working in companies that pay for visa charges of the staff, but those who have to renew the visa by themselves will now face an additional burden of not only OMR10, but issues related to it, such as taking transport and reaching the nearest clinic, the time spent at the clinic for getting the X-ray done, and going again to the clinic to get the X-ray.”
Al Yazidi said that this method of check-up would also ensure that the ministry’s operations run smoothly. He said, “To shorten the medical check-up time and process at the Ministry of Health centres, all clients must carry a chest X-ray from private clinics before they come for residency medical tests. This also ensures that everyone completes their check-up at once.”