About 160 organizations have joined forces to call for the
lifting of a travel ban on HIV positive people, who want to come to the United
States. The organizations want the US Senate to lift the ban as part of
legislation to re-authorize PEPFAR, the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS
Mitchell Warren is head of the AIDS Vaccine
Advocacy Coalition, one of the groups lobbying the senate. From New York, he
spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why the
travel ban should be lifted.
"It's important for at
least two reasons. One, it's just the wrong policy. There's no scientific
evidence or good rationale to continue this ban. It was established back in 1987.
There are only 12 countries left that still have this kind of travel ban. It
includes Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sudan. And this is not a policy that
works. And the second reason…is it is actually setting us back in terms of
leadership in the fight against AIDS. When we think about the number of
researchers, of community advocates in other countries, who are HIV positive,
who cannot come to this country, generally for their own work, it's absurd. And
for over a decade now, we've not had international AIDS conferences taking
place in the United States because of a decision made early on that no country
that has a policy like this should be the host of one of the international
conferences," he says.
Many HIV positive activists, including Africans,
have expressed anger over the travel ban, saying they want to attend scientific
meetings and other gatherings on HIV/AIDS in the United States.
Warren says, "With the advent of the PEPFAR
program…the US government is showing great leadership when it comes to
prevention and treatment. Certainly, the enormous amount of resource put to
research from the United States government, NIH (National Institutes of Health)
and other mechanisms, this country is a leader in the fight against AIDS. And
to not allow our partners from all over the world, who happen to be HIV
positive, to be able to engage with their peers and counterparts in this
country really does set the process back. Sets the fight against AIDS back. And
really detracts from what should be much more comprehensive leadership from the
The US House of representatives has passed the
PEPFAR reauthorization act. However, it's stalled in the senate, in part,
because of the provision lifting the travel ban.
"HIV remains the only disease in the Immigration
and Nationality Act that makes it inadmissible for entry in the United States.
It's the only medical condition included," he says.
The legislation would give authority back
to the Department of Health and Human Services, allowing it to decide on a
case-by-case basis who with HIV can enter the country.