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 Relief.
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 US government."
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.