A new move by the Ministry of Health -MOH to retest job seekers traveling to the Middle East has left externalization companies confused.
According to the new directive which comes amidst concerns of migrant workers testing negative while still in the country only for them to test positive at arrival in their countries of destination, workers are supposed to present results done within 24 hours of travel at the airport. They also must be verified for authenticity.
Nelson Gumisiriza, the Operations Manager Bright Star Creations International, a labor company in Ntinda who only got to know about the initiative on Saturday tells URN that the requirement is confusing considering that some airlines are asking them to have test certificates conducted in 48 hours.
He is taking 39 cleaners to Qatar tomorrow but he could only gather 18 for a test this morning. His company, he says, externalizes up to 200 workers each month.
Patricia Diana Nakabazi, an agent from BM Forex Workers Limited, an externalization company found in Lungujja told URN in an interview that moving workers amid travel restrictions has been almost impossible.
She said, of the 78 house helps scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia today, only 40 had already arrived at Hotel Africana in Kampala where the tests are being done. But even for those that had arrived, she was still awaiting PCR results from Case Hospital Laboratory which is a prerequisite for one to go through the MOH exercise.
While the MOH second PCR test is conducted free of charge, travelers must carry a negative PCR test certificate from an accredited private lab in addition to their passport in order for their samples to be taken.
Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the MOH Senior Public Relations Officer, says results of the second test will be available in the next six hours and that this initiative is meant to study the loopholes that could be in their testing system.
While he couldn’t confirm an exact figure of how many people had been affected by the discrepancies in the results, it is said about 130 people tested positive on arrival in Middle East last month.
He says there have been attempts to hack into their verification system at the airport.
On the 28th of June, the MOH Permanent Secretary Dr. Diana Atwiine held an emergency meeting with the Ministry of Gender after the country got a warning that there are numerous forgeries in testing coming through Entebbe airport which she attributed to labor export and travel agent companies.
In her letter calling for the meeting which has been seen by URN, Atwine warned that a solution should be quickly found as the country had been put on notice to be blacklisted for denial of entry visas at international level.
Now, Ainebyoona says this exercise is intended to last ten days after which they will review their findings and decide on the way forward and whether to continue requiring an additional PCR test before travel or not.
When the issue of forgeries by companies was put to Enid Nambuya, the Executive Director of the Externalization Companies Association, she said they have been doing 72 hours and the errors could be arising from the timelines of testing.
However, according to a source at the National Public Health Laboratory that requested to be kept anonymous because of not being the official spokesperson of the entity, already more than 20 samples of 200 tested yesterday, have come out positive despite holders having negative test certificates from elsewhere.
Yesterday, when the exercise started they tested up to 200 migrant workers and about the same number is expected today. By midday, groups of workers were seen coming in and others coming to be tested.
Nambuya says by midday, they had already taken samples of up to 180 workers. URN