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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands - (April 15, 1998 - Saipan Tribune)---Of the estimated 42,000 alien workers here , only 11,093 or 26.4 percent have so far complied with the recently implemented new health screening regulation, the Department of Public Health said yesterday.

Of the figure, only 6,682 were issued health certificates. The rest have yet to get theirs for various reasons, said Acting Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez.

"This represents fewer than 30 percent of the estimated 42,000 alien workers presently in the CNMI," Villagomez said in a news statement.

He said about 133 alien workers were referred by various private clinics to the Commonwealth Health Center's Chest Clinic for having abnormal chest x-rays.

As of 2 PM yesterday, 60 of these alien workers have been confirmed to have active tuberculosis or TB.

"The 60 cases represent another dramatic increase, confirming the Division's concern that alien workers had not been adequately screened and that there are a lot more undiagnosed tuberculosis cases in the community," Villagomez said.

The new health screening regulation is currently implemented on an emergency basis for a period of 90 days commencing on February 25 and ending on May 25.

The measure was taken after the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control confirmed the TB rate of the Northern Marianas rose by 100 percent last year compared to 1996.

Significantly, most cases involve alien workers. Alarmed over the situation, the local government imposed the new health regulation.

All alien workers must take new health tests -- chest x-rays for TB, HIV and syphilis tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

Thus far, only a small fraction of the alien workers' population has complied with the new health requirements. But Villagomez said there is no immediate plan of extending the 90-day period yet.

In an interview, John Gonzales, public information officer for health screening regulations, said extending the test-period will defeat the authorities' purpose of containing the problem on communicable diseases.

"We are not contemplating to extend the date simply because most guest workers haven't taken the tests. If we will extend it, we will unnecessarily risk the public's (health)," Gonzales said.


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