HIV Travel Restrictions: Latest Developments
Some 45 countries, territories and areas still continue to employ some form of restriction on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV.
As he opened the satellite session on HIV Travel Restrictions: Latest Developments, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programmes and co-moderator of the panel, Dr Paul De Lay said “It is fitting that one of the first satellites at AIDS2012 is one on travel restrictions. We would not be here today if the US government had not lifted its HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence in January 2010.”
Co-hosted by UNAIDS and the Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the satellite aimed to hear new developments in Korea about their own restrictions as well as to take stock of where the global situation of travel restrictions stands some 30 years into the epidemic.
“It is very meaningful and significant that there are still many innocent people who have been denied their basic human rights just because they live with HIV,” said Kim Bong-hyun, Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea in his keynote speech. “I am pleased to state, on behalf of my government, that the Republic of Korea has no HIV-specific travel restrictions under the Immigration Control Act and its implementing regulations. Lifting travel restrictions is a small step on our long journey to realize a society where there is no discrimination against people with HIV,” he added.
With the announcement of the Republic of Korea, there are 8 countries that have lifted their restrictions since 2010. However, some 45 countries, territories and areas still continue to employ some form of restriction on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV (“HIV-related travel restrictions”).
The momentum to remove remaining restrictions is growing. Helga Ying, Senior Director of Worldwide Government Affairs and Public Policy at Levi Strauss & Co., described an initiative by UNAIDS, in partnership with the Global Business Coalition on Health, in which some 24 CEOs have signed a pledge against HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence. “Globalized travel and relocation have become routine; companies need to move their best talent where they need them. These restrictions hurt not only individuals but also businesses,” said Ms Ying. The goal of the initiative is to get 100 CEOs to sign the pledge by World AIDS Day 2012. “Everyone can make a difference and businesses can too,” added Ms Ying.
Participants at the satellite also heard the experience of Ukraine in removing its restrictions. Dr Marina Zelenska, Head of HIV/AIDS Department, State Service for Social Diseases of Ukraine described how, in 2010, the country decided to change the law to ensure that it provided legal and social protection of people living with HIV and prevented discrimination. Part of that law reform was to remove the provision banning HIV positive people from entry.
George Bartolome of United Western Visayas, a support group of people living with HIV from Central Philippines, presented a powerful personal story of how travel restrictions had been applied against him as a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia. When he was told he was HIV-positive, he was so shocked that when he stepped out into the street, he was hit by a car. Later he was taken to a hospital and locked in a room for 10 days before he was deported. “It was a horrible experience; I would not wish it to happen to anyone else. It was traumatic.” He recommended that all governments remove such restrictions. “HIV is not a reason for deportation.”
Another key issue discussed at the session was the large numbers of migrant workers who are either subjected to pre-departure and post-arrival mandatory HIV testing or summarily deported when found infected in the country of destination—without informed consent, counselling or confidentiality. Malu Marin of Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), Inc./CARAM Asia highlighted that such restrictions make even less sense with the significant advancements in HIV treatment which renders people living with HIV long-lived and productive citizens as well as non-infectious.
At this historic moment of the return to of the International AIDS Conference to the United States, the satellite helped to galvanise further action on and attention to the issue of HIV travel restrictions, with the acknowledgement that there are 45 countries to go. UNAIDS committed to support these governments to remove such restrictions and ensure that all countries have effective and rights-based approaches to HIV.