think tank in Washington has urged the U.S. government to
take immediate steps to end the requirement that people with
HIV have to declare their status and get a special
visa before entering the country.
announced his intention to do so on World AIDS Day,
December 1, but no action has been taken.
The Center for
Strategic and International Studies met April 12 in
Washington, D.C., to discuss possible ways of relaxing the
ban. It produced a report urging action and outlining
Gayle, formerly of the federal Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, said the U.S. travel ban is
inconsistent with the international leadership role on
HIV that America has demonstrated it wants by adopting
measures such as the President's Emergency Plan for
"It is just one
more thing where we are out of line and inconsistent
with what we are trying to do," she said.
Nieburg said there is no justification for the law in
terms of public health. The HIV knowledge base has grown
since 1993, when the ban was imposed, and it is now
clear that HIV is not an easily spread contagious
disease, Nieburg said.
As for worries
about the cost of treating someone with HIV who ends up in
the United States stranded or seeking asylum, he said that a
blanket ban on anyone with HIV is inherently
discriminatory: Other costly chronic health problems
are not singled out for a blanket ban but are handled on
a case-by-case basis.
A waiver is
available to HIV-positive foreigners entering the United
States for "designated events," such as last year's Gay
Games in Chicago. But it requires individuals to
disclose their HIV status, thereby limiting their
ability to enter the United States in the future.
The ban was
instituted in 1993 against the advice of Louis Sullivan,
then-secretary of Health and Human Services, when Sen. Jesse
Helms carried legislation to add HIV to the list of
communicable diseases barring people from U.S. entry.
Sullivan told the
April 12 meeting that the introduction of effective
treatments and their greater availability in developing
countries makes now "truly a propitious time to try
and end these restrictions."
Part of the
challenge is that it was much easier to add a clause to the
list saying "and this specifically include anyone with HIV"
than it will be to replace it with a clause saying
"but this does not include people with
HIV"--because many legislators will want to ensure
that a ban remains on people who genuinely do constitute a
danger to public health.
likely to apply to both short-term tourist visas and
long-term immigrant visas, and legislators are thought to
want to continue to ensure that hard questions are
asked about an HIV-positive person's ability to pay
for his or her medical care if he or she wishes to
live and work in the United States.
But the report
noted that other wealthy countries with more relaxed
policies have not seen a huge influx of HIV-positive
immigrants seeking free care.
The simplest way
of relaxing the aspect of the ban that affects most
people would be for Bush to issue an executive order saying
that tourists--people staying for less than 30
days--are exempted from the HIV ban.
But it is thought
that a rear guard in the White House is uneasy about
the idea of letting people in without any knowledge of their
The situation was
not helped when, after the international AIDS
conference in Toronto last summer, more than 150
HIV-positive people attending the conference chose to
remain in Canada and seek asylum, claiming that they
feared discrimination or worse in their own countries.
have said that the White House will still require
people with HIV to declare their status while lifting an
automatic ban, at least for tourist visas.
Tom Walsh, a
member of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator who
was in the meeting's audience, would not specify when the
ban might be lifted.
"The process is
under way, it is complex, and I wish there was more
that I could say," Walsh said. (Gus Cairns, Gay.com/U.K.)