May 13, 2006
The news that Dubai is considering screening tourists for AIDS (or rather the HIV virus) is unlikely to help the emirate's campaign to market itself as an open and tolerant society:
It’s not clear how the tests would work, but anyone found to have the virus would be refused admission to the country, said Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Al Mur, director of the human rights department at Dubai police.
Clearly it would be an unworkable policy: unless such information - god forbid - was contained in biometric passports, there is no practical way that immigration officials could test all visitors quickly and efficiently, let alone accurately.
The impact it would have on tourism would be catastrophic: "Fly to five-star luxury and sunshine in glorious Dubai! (If you don't mind being detained for 48-hours in the airport quarantine hotel while we verify your blood)" is a far from inviting slogan.
More workable, and frankly of more value, are plans to screen existing residents for HIV. Currently, all expatriates working or living in the UAE have mandatory HIV tests every couple of years. But so far locals don't, and with general taboos over sex and disease, the problem is extremely hidden:
Al Mur also announced plans to conduct an official count of HIV carriers in the UAE to aid in planning a national campaign to tackle the disease, after admitting authorities have no idea how many people suffer from it.
The results may be something of a shock, according to many health workers here. Cultures of secrecy, condom-aversion, promiscuity, and extensive contact with sex workers from Africa and far east Asia are all significant factors, despite the prevailing veneer of modesty and chastity. The fear is for women: wives are often ignorant of their husband's infidelities, as well as the need for condoms and testing.
The stigma is the biggest problem. AIDS patients are literally shut away from everyone else. Even the UAE government-owned newspaper, Emirates Today, is critical of existing HIV patient facilities:
The following day he was told to attend the hospital, where doctors escorted him to the isolation ward where Aids patients are kept – a grim single-storey concrete block sealed with a wall of metal bars and a chained and padlocked door, guarded by police.
But change is taking place. One current initiative in the UAE is the campaign to eradicate thalassaemia, which includes mandatory pre-marital screening. For perhaps the first time, doctors are speaking out openly of the risks of consanguinity and cousin-marriage, still very much the norm among local families. Even abortion is edging towards legality, with women set to be allowed to travel overseas to terminate foetuses found to have the condition. (Abortion remains illegal in the UAE, this workaround will be carried out with the approval and permission of Islamic doctors and scholars).
Recently, the pre-marital screening for HIV has also been made mandatory, which can only be a good thing. Only when the issue is dragged out into the open and people are forced to confront it will the infected be able to get help, others be able to protect themselves, and the stigma gradually diminish.
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Couldn't the testing be practicably done by requiring the sponsoring agency (and even tourists have to have one) to require the applicant to take an HIV test prior to embarking for the UAE?
Posted by: matthew hogan at May 13, 2006 08:35 PM
Currently a lot of tourists get visas on arrival (ie those from the UK, from EU countries, the US, etc).
The problem with HIV tests is that they only show people who have had HIV for at least three-six months. They don't show new infections (including those on retrovirals?) Plus beyond the UAE's jurisdiction, there is nothing to monitor corruption in other countries' health services. So easy to get someone else to give a blood sample for you.
Posted by: secretdubai at May 13, 2006 08:42 PM
"Even abortion is edging towards legality, with women set to be allowed to travel overseas to terminate foetuses found to have the condition."
What does "allowed" mean? Presumably, any woman who wanted to leave the country for an abortion could do it already. Do you mean that the government would pay for it? Or that it would be considered permissible by Islamic scholars?
UAE government-owned newspaper, Emirates Today
Small point, but isn't it the Dubai government that owns that paper?
One thing they could do to make everyone less edgy about the whole testing process might be to stop deporting everyone who has the virus.
It is also probably worth noting that most of Dubai's legion of sex workers are supposed to be here on visit visas, not residence visas.
Posted by: dubaiwalla at May 14, 2006 12:50 AM
Ann: while there's nothing to stop a woman going to Cairo and getting an abortion, the UAE would consider it a crime, (though I am not sure if they would actually prosecute, if they even found out).
This way becomes permissible under UAE law and as shariah. I imagine the easing-of-conscience factor from the latter to be the thing of greatest significance.
Posted by: secretdubai at May 14, 2006 01:02 AM
I suppose it would be at least theoretically possible to add an Aids test result to your yellow card (immunization records). A lot of African countries still require yellow fever shots. Although I've known people who have gotten "dry innoculations" for their trip to Africa, a "dry innoculation" being one that involves a signature and a stamp, but no needles.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at May 14, 2006 03:40 AM
if "western" tourists have to undergo an a.i.d.s. test before traveling to the u.a.e. then they simply won't come. some won't come because they find the practice reprehensible, some won't come because it's simply too complicated for them, but most won't come because the idea is rather unappealing.
if truly implemented, the issue will be widely covered in the "western" media and lead to a downfall in tourist numbers to the u.a.e.
an a.i.d.s. test is - in terms of perception - not comparable to a vaccination. but even then - many "western" tourist travel now to the emirates (& oman) because in terms of regulations and paperwork it's as easy as traveling to egypt or morocco. all you need is a passport and a plane ticket.
i do wonder if nationals of other g.c.c. states are included in this new project ...
Posted by: raf* at May 14, 2006 04:39 AM
totally feasable. there's a new test that takes 20 minutes or so to run. it doesn't require drawing blood either. just a simple swab to the inside of the mouth. not sure to what percentile it's accurate to though...
still - the very idea of having to be tested for a.i.d.s. would cause a significant amount of potential tourists to say "hell, no!" and not go to dubai/u.a.e.
Posted by: raf* at May 14, 2006 04:42 PM
agreed. but at least the airports won't have to be equipped with massive "waiting hotels."
aren't there a few other countries that already require HIV/AIDS tests for foreigners, even tourists?
Something of an odd fact to know, but in order to get a permit to enter Antartica, one has to pass an HIV-AIDS test. And so a fair amount of people come to take service jobs at McMurdo station (through which the more serious researchers pass in and out)because of the restrictive HIV policy. I've heard second-hand that the parties can get a little wild.
Obviously, it would be a rather different situation in Dubai, but there's a limit-case for your speculations.
Posted by: Jackmormon at May 14, 2006 11:00 PM
I doubt that Dubai would do something so unfriendly to tourists. I could see them implementing it for visitors from a list of specific countries though (not including countries where their affluent tourists come from). And unless it was a UAE-wide policy, anyone flying or driving into other emirates first wouldn't be covered anyway.
The pre-marital screening is a good idea, though.
As for the abortions, I think it would require a major shift in attitudes for that to be seen as acceptable. Even if it was determined that a woman was carrying a baby with a serious form of thalassaemia, scholars say that abortion is only allowed when the mother's own life is in danger. The government might get some scholars to say that it's allowed, but other scholars and many ordinary Muslims would reject that.
Interesting about the Antarctic...
dw: do you know if hijabs are common-place at the south pole? if so, several Aqoul'ers, including myself, are on the way!
I could see them implementing it for visitors from a list of specific countries
Yes, and none of them would be countries whose citizens get visas on arrival. I can picture them applying such a rule to women between the ages of 18 and 35 from Eastern Europe and parts of SE Asia, for instance. Testing every Saudi tourist? Unthinkable.
other scholars and many ordinary Muslims would reject that
I don't think that there will be any public debate or protest if the government doesn't see this as appropriate, especially given that no one would be forced into this, and abortions wouldn't be taking place in the UAE anyway.
Posted by: dubaiwalla at May 15, 2006 01:49 AM
DrDoug: at least if fiction can be trusted, the babe ratio in Antarctica is pretty grim. 70/30 male or something. (According to Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, which I'm assuming he, y'know, actually did a bit of research for. Caveat lector).
Posted by: Tom Scudder at May 15, 2006 03:37 AM
Tom: He wrote the novel after spending time in Antarctica on a sort of cultural exchange programme, so his numbers were no doubt accurate enough at the time. They may have changed since then, of course.
Posted by: duaneg at May 15, 2006 11:45 AM
Dubaiwalla - maybe no public protests, but what I mean is that I doubt that many Emiratis would choose it for themselves. Especially since any decision like that probably wouldn't be taken only by the couple; both their families would be involved, and it's just not something most people would want.
It's not what the families might want to be public knowledge. What happens otherwise is a very different thing, o' believer.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at May 16, 2006 12:00 PM