Cape Town - The case against Cape Town doctor Cyril Karabus in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has resulted in major international repercussions for that country.
On Wednesday, the South African Medical Association (Sama) warned practitioners to “think twice” before heading to work in the Middle East.
Many medical practitioners now worried about taking on jobs there have also contacted Karabus’s local lawyer seeking advice on conditions in the UAE.
Karabus, 77, a retired paediatric oncologist, has been held in the UAE since his arrest on a murder charge in August while in transit through Dubai.
He had been tried in absentia and convicted of homicide and falsifying documents after the death of three-year-old Sarah Adel in 2000 at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, where he had been working as a locum.
He was sentenced, in absentia, to four years in jail.
On Wednesday, Sama spokesman Mzukisi Grootboom said about 98 percent of the medical work force in the Middle East consisted of expatriates of which a number “fell foul of the laws”.
“Sometimes the accusations against them are nebulous,” he said.
Grootboom said often these practitioners were not taken to a court and if they were, their access to legal advice and representation was blocked.
In some instances, the practitioners were told if they paid a fine, “or so-called blood money”, they would be released from custody and the matter would be withdrawn.
“Given the fact of such a poor human rights situation, we wonder if it’s still acceptable for South Africans to work there. The rule of law is very different to that of SA and (practitioners) can end up in trouble without any recourse...
“We are advising (medical practitioners) not from those countries to think twice before going there,” Grootboom said.
He did not have figures on how many doctors, nurses and other medical workers from South Africa were in the Middle East, but said since the Karabus case had been in the spotlight, similar incidents involving nurses and doctors had surfaced.
On its website, the British Medical Association said it had written to the UAE justice minister and foreign affairs minister “to ensure that Professor Karabus’ retrial meets international standards for a fair trial”.
In a statement the World Medical Association also called on UAE authorities to ensure Karabus was guaranteed a fair trial according to international standards” and had access to the relevant documents or information needed to prepare his defence.
On Wednesday, Karabus’s lawyer, Michael Bagraim, said after taking on Karabus’s case, he had been inundated with hundreds of calls from mainly nurses in Cape Town, but also foreign medical practitioners.
“They’re worried about taking on locums there (in the UAE),” he said.
Worried relatives of those already working there had also contacted Bagraim and late Tuesday a woman from New Zealand called him for advice before heading to work in the UAE.
He said nurses in SA were paid less than those working in the UAE and the majority he had spoken to were the breadwinners in their families.
“If you take that locum in the UAE, you can earn anything up to ten times more tax- free,” Bagraim said.
An online medical recruitment firm advertisement posted last year for jobs for paediatric nurses in the UAE said: “They offer very attractive TAX FREE salaries (approximately R46 000 per month) and all the usual Middle East benefits ie housing allowance, free dental and medical insurance, free flights etc”.
Bagraim said given the high pay, he understood why medical practitioners would want to work in the UAE.
“I tell them ‘yes, I can’t stop you from going… ’ But they need to be fully aware that if they make a mistake they could have criminal action taken against them.”
Bagraim had worked on a number of the worried nurses’ contracts to ensure that if this occurred, their employers would pay their legal fees.