Nurses Fearful of Deportation Could Hide Infectious Diseases

March 11, 2009 Updated: March 11, 2009

DUBAI—Healthcare workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who are likely to have contacted HIV or Hepatitis B from hospital needles are reluctant to report the injuries, through fear of losing their jobs.

A survey of 1,420 nurses and doctors in Dubai and Sharjah revealed that one in five have been injured by sharp objects and 55 percent of those injuries were contaminated.

However, under-reporting was sixfold in a study group of 752 workers and non-existent in a further study group of 668 workers.

”People are often scared of reporting these injuries because they could be socially excluded or isolated,” said Dr Ana Jacob, Specialist Physician at the Welcare Hospital in Dubai. “Especially in the UAE they could lose their jobs if they are found with these diseases.

“There is a three month incubation period from the point of the injury until the disease becomes apparent,” said Jacob. “There is a high degree of anxiety during this period for healthcare workers.”

The study is not yet published but findings were revealed at the International Risk Management Conference recently. It is the first of its kind in the UAE and fills a gap in World Health Organization statistics.

Bins overflowing with hypodermic needles can cause accidental injury and over half of the injuries reported in the survey were from objects that had been inadequately disposed off.

Following injury, the healthcare worker should take a specific medication an hour after the injury to prevent the contraction of HIV. While this is available in the state sector, private hospitals do not similarly protect staff.

Jacob said that the same protection should be offered at private hospitals. Moreover, she added that where such treatment was available, it was important that nurses be able to report injuries anonymously rather than having to put their careers on the line.

The two healthcare organizations surveyed in Jacob’s report had previously made employees pay for their own Hepatitis B vaccinations soon after joining the company. This meant that many had opted out and were not protected against the disease.

However, after hospital bosses were notified of the survey both organizations began to offer free vaccinations to new employees.

‘Our nurses are fearful of needles’

For expatriate nurses in Dubai hospitals a simple prick of a needle could end a career before it begins.

Last year a Filipino nurse was deported after contracting Hepatitis B just months after being scratched by a piece of broken glass.

Stories about deportations have made many nurses especially wary about sharp objects.

“Many of our nurses are very careful about pricks from hospital needles,” said a senior nurse at Royal Hospital. “We haven’t had any infectious diseases at our hospital but we have heard about nurses being deported elsewhere because of it. This isn’t right."