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Namibia Lifts HIV Travel Ban

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Joe DeCapua

Namibia has lifted its long-standing travel ban for people living with HIV.

Namibian officials say even though there’s no record of enforcement of the ban, it did not reflect Namibia’s commitment to democracy and human rights.  UNAIDS praises the decision, saying the country is now in line with international public health standards.

“The fact that visitors coming to Namibia have to fill in a visa form where they are asked whether they suffer from a contagious disease, including HIV and AIDS, which is legally done as a basis to refuse them entry into the country, is a difficult issue to face,” says Henk Van Renterghem, UNAIDS country coordinator for Namibia.

What’s more, he adds, “It’s discrimination against people suffering from a disease.”

The right thing to do

Van Renterghem says besides being “the right thing to do” in bolstering human rights, lifting the ban supports the country’s public health policy.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that limiting mobility or travel of people living with HIV has any effect on the epidemic.  And in this sense, people who live with the disease…get the wrong impression they should be somehow contained in their mobility and in their rights to move around freely,” he says.

The United States and China recently lifted their long-standing HIV travel restrictions.  But UNAIDS reports there are “51 countries, territories and areas that continue to impose some form of restriction on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV based on their HIV status.”

It goes on to say that five countries deny visas for even short-term stays, while 22 countries “deport individuals once their HIV status is discovered.”

Relic of the past?

“Most of these regulations and laws were put in place in the early days of the epidemic,” says Van Renterghem.  “It gives a very wrong impression of how we treat people living with HIV.  We know that stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV…reduce to a large extent…the capacity to access services.”

He says lifting such bans sends a message to HIV-positive people that “we care about you.  You’re equal to all other citizens and we everything to put in place a framework that allows us to provide the best possible services.”

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe has designated 2010 the year of lifting of HIV travel restrictions.

“That’s why it’s important that countries (such) as the U.S., China and Namibia actually effectively lift these regulations,” Van Renterghem says.

Rights here, right now

The 18th International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2010, will be held in Vienna from July 18th through the 23rd.  The theme of the conference is Rights Here, Right Now.  Van Renterghem says a number of news conferences and sessions are planned on the travel ban issue.

UNAIDS says, “There is no evidence that such restrictions prevent HIV transmission or protect public health. Furthermore, HIV-related travel restrictions have no economic justification, as people living with HIV can lead long and productive working lives.”

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