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PHR Opposes Proposed US Travel Restrictions for People with AIDS on Human Rights Grounds, Calls for Complete Lifting of US HIV "Travel Ban"

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) opposes proposed regulations developed by the Bush administration's Department of Homeland Security that would increase the obstacles for people living with HIV who seek to visit the United States. Since the travel ban is a US law, PHR is calling on the White House and Congress to lift US HIV travel restrictions entirely. Organizations have until December 6, 2007 to register comments to the Department of Homeland Security about the proposed changes to regulations governing the law. Under pressure from public health experts, China has recently agreed to drop its own travel ban against people with HIV. The current US rules have been opposed by over 200 health groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the World Health Organization.. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would appoint a commission to examine public health aspects of the US travel restrictions against people with HIV, the HIV Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act of 2007.

Renowned AIDS physician, researcher, and PHR Health Action AIDS Campaign advisor Paul Volberding, MD, made the following statement regarding the proposed regulations:

"In 1990, I was the co-chair of the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco and President of the International AIDS Society. Because of this misguided US policy, the IAS decided to never again allow the US to host this important scientific meeting until the travel restrictions were changed. The proposed new rules, if anything, make the restrictions even more discriminatory. For the US, which has assumed a laudable leadership role in HIV science and global treatment, to impose such an uninformed, misguided and unnecessary policy on our visitors is more than unfortunate. While our citizens can and do travel to other countries for pleasure and business without restrictions, we erect discriminatory barriers against those from other countries for a chronic, treatable disease that is not casually spread. It's past time for political decisions to be informed by the very science our own government has so appropriately supported."

PHR Health Action AIDS Campaign Director Pat Daoust, MSN, RN said, "If we are ever to effectively address HIV/AIDS from a public health perspective, we must first abolish all discriminatory practices against those infected with HIV. The travel ban is nothing more than a continuation of misunderstood, and offensive, practices that violate human rights and contribute to the stigma that fuels this pandemic."

Under the current regulations, it is possible for HIV-positive visitors to seek a "waiver" to the HIV ban, allowing them to visit the US for no longer than 30 days. Such waivers right now are capriciously granted and difficult to obtain; the visitor's passport is permanently stamped to indicate that the bearer is HIV positive. New regulations would require the visitor to demonstrate that they have no HIV symptoms, can supply evidence that the danger they pose to public health is minimal, and that they have an adequate supply of medication for their trip. Under the current system and proposed regulations, they must also prove that they have been counseled about how HIV is transmitted, and show that they have adequate funding to pay for any medical care they may require. Such stipulations are not placed on visitors with heart conditions and other costly medical problems. PHR said that the current law, and the proposed regulations, violate the human rights to freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, and privacy. "There are no valid public health grounds for the restrictions, which were originally established during the late 1980s by the Reagan administration," said Daoust.

If a person does become gravely ill while visiting the US with expenses that he or she can't cover, under the new regulations the person could be barred for life from entering the US again.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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