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UNAIDS Criticizes HIV Travel Restrictions - 2004-06-12

The International Organization for Migration and UNAIDS say they are concerned by the increasing number of countries, which require that foreigners be tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, prior to entry.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, countries have enacted travel restrictions to try to prevent HIV-infected people from crossing their borders. About 60 countries, including the United States, Russia, China and many Arab countries, currently require mandatory testing. Some countries demand exams for short-term visitors, such as business or tourism. Most impose these restrictions only on people who want to remain in the country for a long time, such as students, workers and refugees.

Mary Haour-Knipe is HIV-AIDS coordinator for the International Organization for Migration. She says governments impose HIV-related restrictions, because they believe this will protect their own public.

"There is no public health justification for trying to keep HIV out of the country by requiring people to have a test," she said. "In fact, it is counter-productive for public health. What it does is, since it excludes people who have HIV, it adds to the climate of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV."

Ms. Haour-Knipe says, this just drives the disease underground, because it discourages people from coming forward to use HIV prevention and care services. The other downside, she says, is that imposing restrictions against non-nationals living with HIV may create the misleading impression that HIV-AIDS is a foreign problem that can be controlled through border restrictions.

She calls this potentially dangerous. She says this can lead to complacency and can make people careless about practicing safe sex and taking other steps to prevent the spread of the disease.

Ms. Haour-Knipe says HIV-positive people who travel do not pose a threat to public health. Although it is infectious, she says, the virus that causes AIDS cannot be transmitted by casual contact. She says it cannot be transmitted through the air, like SARS or the common cold.

UNAIDS and the migration organization call on the 60 countries to lift their travel restrictions.