News / Health

    Lawmakers, UN Call for End to Travel Restrictions on HIV-Positive People

    Ron Corben

    Parliamentarians from more than 100 countries have called for the lifting of travel restrictions for people living with HIV or AIDS.  The call to lift the bans came on the first day of meetings by the Inter-parliamentary Union in the Thai capital, Bangkok.

    The call to end travel restrictions on people with AIDS or the AIDS virus was made jointly between the 120 country Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNAIDS to target more than 50 countries worldwide.

    In the Asia-Pacific region, 15 nations or territories apply restrictions, including Australia, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and New Zealand.

    The Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNAIDS also called for parliamentarians to back legislation and law enforcement to protect people living with HIV from discrimination based on their HIV status.

    UNAIDS Executive Director Michele Sidibe says the parliamentarians' influence could play a key role in the removal of the discriminatory laws and restrictions.

    "What we are calling for with the Inter-parliamentary Union is not a specific right - what we are calling for is the right we all enjoy when we are traveling from one place to another," explained Sidibe.  "And we consider that this movement could help us to remove those bans in 52 countries today in the world."

    Sidibe said the travel restrictions are "outdated" in the age of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment.

    Restrictions range from complete bans on the entry of HIV-positive people, to bans on short stays as tourists, and bans on immigrants to work, seek asylum, or study.

    Indonesian AIDS Activist Suksma Ratri
    Indonesian AIDS Activist Suksma Ratri

    HIV-positive Indonesian AIDS-activist Suksma Ratri lives in Malaysia.  She says she is forced to leave Malaysia when seeking medical treatment, having been refused access to medical services there.  She says such restrictions represent a violation of human rights.

    "Banning people living with HIV, such as me, from entering certain countries is certainly a violation of basic human rights," she noted.  "And that fallacy also does not even fit the public rational about public health because the epidemic is already in the country."

    Inter-Parliamentary Union President and speaker of Namibia's National Assembly Theo-Ben Gurirab says governments need to repeal key laws.

    "So the campaign for public education, public awareness is something we must work together at all levels to continue," said Gurirab.  "Stigmatization is still there, there are laws in some countries.  We must as parliamentarians as governments ensure that they are removed from the statutory books."

    This year the United States ended a 22-year ban that prevented people with HIV or AIDS from entering the country.

    There are currently more than 30 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide having claimed the lives of over 25 million people since 1981.  In the Asia-Pacific region more than five million people are HIV Positive.

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