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Activists upset as UK introduces TB screening for visa applicants

[South Africa] TB diagnosis.
Without x-ray machines or laboratories, which are unaffordable for many health facilities, diagnosing TB can be difficult. (Stop TB Partnership)

AIDS activists in Kenya are calling for the United Kingdom (UK) to repeal a recent decision to introduce tuberculosis screening for Kenyans applying to enter the UK for more than six months.

"We should all fight the disease as an international community, and not victimise poor countries," Dr Ignatius Kibe, a leading advocate for treatment access in Kenya, said at a press conference this week.

The British High Commission announced on 24 November that visa applicants from countries with a high TB-burden, including China, South Africa and Zimbabwe, would be required to undergo a TB test, to be administered locally by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Applicants found to be infected could re-apply for entry once they had been treated and cleared of the disease.

Kenya is ranked 10th on the United Nations World Health Organisation's list of 22 countries that bear 80 percent of the world's TB burden, and about 60 percent of TB patients in Kenya are co-infected with the HI virus. TB is the most frequent opportunistic infection in HIV-positive people, and the leading cause of death.

Kibe said an estimated 13 Kenyans died from TB every hour, despite the fact that the disease was preventable and treatable.

The new visa requirements were made soon after a report by the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) on migrant health, which found that the TB, malaria and HIV epidemics in the UK were occurring mainly in migrant populations.

According to a 2005 BBC study, 'Born Abroad', Kenya was eighth most frequently given by immigrants as their country of birth. The activists said the TB screening requirement would stigmatise Kenyans visiting the UK and could potentially hurt the country's economy.

"This has been all over the UK press and so we have to think about the impact on tourism," said Patrick Bertrand, a partner of the health NGO, Global Health Advocates.

After the release of the HPA report, some British tabloids claimed migrants were responsible for the continued spread of HIV and TB in the UK. On 16 November, the British tabloid, The Sun, carried an editorial warning that the UK risked "an explosion in both killer diseases [TB and HIV], thanks to infected immigrants."

However, the HPA report said there was little evidence that the wider British population was at risk of significant levels of disease transmission from affected migrants.

IOM said the benefits of the programme included early detection for UK visa applicants suffering from TB, as well as a lower risk of infection for communities in Britain. The new programme also encouraged information sharing between the UK and the migrants' countries of origin, allowing a better understanding of the disease.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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