AIDS activists laud lifting of US HIV travel ban

A 22-year-old ban on people infected with HIV entering the US was officially lifted on 2 November, with the new rules taking effect in 60 days. AIDS activists have hailed the move as a major coup in the fight against stigma.



"This comes as very good news for us," Michael Angaga, regional coordinator for the Network of African People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAP+), told IRIN/PlusNews.



"For so long HIV-positive people have felt isolated by one of the greatest nations in the world, which should be spearheading human rights." Angaga said he looked forward to seeing the new rules rapidly implemented in US embassies around the world.



In 1987 HIV was added to the list of communicable diseases that could prevent infected immigrants, students and tourists from obtaining visas to enter the US without special permission. President Barack Obama's announcement on 30 October marked the end of a process started in 2008 by then US President George W. Bush, who signed a law repealing these restrictions.



"We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic, yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country. If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it," Obama was reported as saying.



Samuel Kibanga, national coordinator of the National Forum of People living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda, commented: "This shows that America can now see the reality that people living with HIV are just like any other people, deserving of the right to free movement - the travel ban was discrimination of the highest calibre."



The UNAIDS International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights state that any restriction on liberty of movement or choice of residence based on suspected or real HIV status alone, including HIV screening of international travellers, is discriminatory.



Governments usually give two main reasons for imposing travel restrictions on HIV-positive people: to help control the spread of HIV, and save host countries the cost of HIV-related treatment, but Kibanga said these regulations merely drove the problem of HIV underground.



"People fear to reveal their status when travelling. It is better to be with someone who feels free to be open about their status than one who is hiding it," he said. "That way we can all fight AIDS as partners."



A June 2009 report by watchdog organization Human Rights Watch, found that immigration laws and stringent requirements for accessing free health care often created insurmountable barriers to treatment and care for migrants living with HIV.



Kibanga said he hoped the US's move would serve as an example to other nations. According to UNAIDS, 59 countries impose some form of travel restrictions on people living with HIV.



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