Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, repeated his belief on June 1st that HIV-positive migrants and refugees should be barred from entry to Australia. His comments brought a swift condemnation from the International AIDS Society (IAS), whose biannual conference will be held in Sydney this July. However, in a press statement, the IAS said that it will not be cancelling the conference, and hopes that the event will act as a focus of opposition to Howard’s plans. Dr Pedro Cahn, president of the IAS said Howard’s comments were “a blatant disregard of basic human rights, and only serve to compound current HIV prevention and treatment efforts.
Howard initially said he supported a ban on HIV-positive migrants entering Australia in Australia in April. At the time, his comments were prompted by a report showing that there had been a significant increase in HIV diagnoses in the Australian state of Victoria. Although some of these new HIV cases involved immigrants, most were due to internal migration. It is thought that Howard either confused internal migration with immigration, or that his comments were a political move, designed to underline his anti-immigration credentials, in advance of the Australian general election later this year.
Prime Minister Howard’s latest comments were provoked by figures from the Australian National Audit Office showing that the immigration department had approved visas for migrants with HIV and other health problems. Although individuals applying for long-term residence in Australia are required to have an HIV test, a positive result is not an automatic bar on entry, and cases are considered on their individual merits.
Howard said that a review would be initiated in the “next week or so” to determine the eligibility of migrants and refugees with conditions “like HIV and leprosy” for long-term residence in Australia. “My view is the best result is that no one with those sorts of ailments is allowed into the country,” he told Australian radio.
“Strong opposition” to such moves has been expressed by the IAS. IAS president, Dr Cahn said, “public health experts throughout the world agree that attempts to reduce HIV transmission by controlling the movement of people living with HIV are both impractical and ineffective…UNAIDS and the International Organization on Migration concluded in a 2004 review that ‘HIV/AIDS-related travel restrictions have no public health justification.’”
In 1992, the location of the World AIDS Conference was switched from Boston to Amsterdam because of the US’s almost total prohibition on entry for people with HIV. Cahn reiterated the IAS’s opposition to US immigration policy and highlighted that the US policy “has been completely unsuccessful at limiting HIV transmission, in fact the US has the highest HIV prevalence in the developed world.”
Craig McClure, executive director of the IAS said that the July conference in Sydney would be going ahead despite of recent developments in Australia. “We are not planning to cancel the conference. We are monitoring the situation carefully”, he said.
"We call on the international community to join us in Sydney for the conference," he added. "Our collective voice and presence will add pressure on the Australian government not to implement these proposed restrictions and will show our solidarity against the restriction of movement of people living with HIV in Australia and other places around the world.”
HIV-positive individuals can enter Australia for tourism and business. Australian health and immigration ministers are supporting a policy that would require migrants to Australia to report to 'health authorities' within a month of their arrival in the country, or risk losing their visa. Plans were also recently announced in Australia to create a genetic database so HIV infections could be 'tracked.'