UNAIDS: HIV+ travel restrictions are not justified

Tony Grew May 28, 2008
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A United Nations body has said that travel restrictions on people who are HIV+ are discriminatory and have no public health justification.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) advocates for a global response to the HIV epidemic.

In a statement to the World Health Assembly last week, UNAIDS stated:

“There is no need to single out HIV for specific consideration as an exclusion criterion.”

The United States is one of 13 countries in the world, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, that bans travel for individuals who are HIV-positive.

“UNAIDS recognises that states impose immigration and visa restrictions as a valid exercise of their national sovereignty,” the statement said.

“However, in imposing any restrictions on entry and stay relating to HIV or health.

“UNAIDS calls upon states to adopt non-discriminatory laws and regulations which rationally achieve valid objectives through the least restrictive means possible.

“UNAIDS would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that HIV-related travel restrictions have no public health justification.

“It is also our view that, where such restrictions are based on HIV status alone, they are discriminatory.

“There is no need to single out HIV for specific consideration as an exclusion criterion.”

Last week the European Parliament passed an amendment urging the European Commission to raise the issue of people with HIV being exempted from entry into the US visa waiver programme.

It formed part of a larger resolution, which was approved by 511 votes to 29, on a range of visa issues between the US and the EU.

Currently the EU is involved in visa negotiations with the US authorities to secure visa-free travel (visa waiver) for EU citizens from all 27 member states.

Amendment 3a, which passed by 309 to 218, urges the EC to:

“Include in the negotiations the exclusion of Europeans with HIV from the visa waiver programme, and ensure equal treatment of all EU citizens; agrees with the Commission that there are no objective reasons for a travel ban for HIV infected persons.”

Last month Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford launched an online campaign to end the American policy which effectively bars HIV positive people from entering the country.

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has also discussed the ban.

Under current US immigration law, any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is “inadmissible,” meaning he is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

There are waivers available to this rule, but obtaining them has always been difficult.

The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special visa.

New regulations purport to speed up the waiver application process because consular officers would be empowered to make decisions on waiver applications without seeking Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sign off.

However, by using this “streamlined” application process, waiver applicants would have to agree to give up the ability to apply for any change in status while in the US, including applying for legal permanent residence.

Deborah Jack of the National AIDS Trust said:

“People in the UK should no longer be subjected to discriminatory laws that restrict their travel to the US based on HIV status.

“Such a law only breeds stigma and discrimination.”

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