UNAIDS Calls for Lifting of Travel Restrictions for HIV Positive People

HIV positive Ugandans and those living with AIDS are often refused travel to countries like Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, China and Spain on the basis of the status of their health. The justification for this is that the travelers will refuse to return home, lured to stay abroad by the more comprehensive AIDS care programs in those countries.

The United Nations AIDS organization, UNAIDS, has issued a call to the World Health Assembly to treat this as discrimination and to eliminate all travel restrictions for HIV-positive people.

A statement from UNAIDS notes that preventing people living with HIV from entering or residing in their countries based solely on their HIV status has stopped them from traveling for business, family visits or tourism. Many HIV positive people have lost opportunities for study, labour migration, and political asylum because of this restriction.

In 1987, the World Health Organisation (WHO) convened an expert consultation which concluded that no screening programme of international travelers can prevent the introduction and spread of HIV infection. A year later it stated that HIV screening of international travelers would be ineffective, impractical and wasteful. The WHO proposed that rather than screening international travelers, resources must be applied to preventing HIV transmission among each population, based on information and education.

However 20 years later, in 2008, there are 74 countries which still impose some form of HIV-specific restrictions on the entry and residence of positive people. Of these, some 10 countries basically prohibit HIV positive people from entering or staying for any reason or length of time.

According to UNAIDS there are 29 countries which deport people once their HIV infection is discovered.

The UNAIDS statement clarifies that it recognizes that States impose immigration and visa restrictions as a valid exercise of their national sovereignty. However, the organization says that in imposing any restrictions on entry and stay relating to HIV or health, States should to adopt non-discriminatory laws and regulations which achieve valid objectives through the least restrictive means possible.

UNAIDS says HIV-related travel restrictions have no public health justification. It calls on Member States to rescind HIV-specific travel restrictions instead take steps to ensure access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for mobile populations.