Parliamentarians, UNAIDS, call for removal of HIV travel bans

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Parliamentarians have joined with UNAIDS to call for the removal of travel restrictions for people with HIV.

Governments were urged to action by parliamentarians from around the world, meeting at the 122nd Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Bangkok on March 28th.

A total of 52 countries have restrictions of some type on the entry, stay or residence of HIV-positive non-citizens.

China’s continuing near-total ban on visits and residence by HIV-positive individuals was exposed by the refusal of a visa to Robert Dessaix, a novelist who is HIV-positive.

A total of 17 other countries have restrictions on even short-term visits by people with HIV. These range from the complete entry bans in Singapore and the Sudan, to requirements for HIV testing for those wishing to stay in the country for longer periods, as is the case with Russia.

“Parliamentarians have a duty to protect the rights of all citizens, including people with HIV,” said Theo-Ben Gurirab, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. “By placing restrictions on the travel and movement of people with HIV, we needlessly rob them of their dignity and equal rights.”

Countries on all continents have restrictions on visits lasting three months or more, longer-term residence, or migration.

Most of these entry restrictions date from the early days of the HIV pandemic, and were imposed in the mistaken belief that they would help control local epidemics.

A number of countries justify longer-term bans as a way of protecting scarce health resources, or as a way of deterring “health tourism.”

“Travel restrictions for people living with HIV do not protect public health and are outdated in the age of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment,” commented Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS.

In January 2010, the US removed its long-standing HIV travel ban.