Despite a growing global effort to end discrimination towards individuals with HIV, 45 countries currently enforce travel restrictions against people living with the disease. The United Nations and GCBHealth (formerly the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria) are working with government officials and decision makers in the private sector to reverse this intolerant policy.
Dr. Elliot Marseille, President of Health Strategies International and a Principal Research Associate at the Institute for Health Policy Studies and the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco, explains, “HIV is different from many other infectious diseases because it has such a long incubation period, because it is hard to transmit, and because being HIV-positive is permanent. Travel bans might inhibit people from getting tested or seeking care, and adds to the stigma which helps perpetuate the disease. I think these concerns outweigh the limited public health benefit that might come from barring entry to HIV-infected people.”
In October 2009, President Obama formally announced the lifting of a ban on HIV-positive individuals legally crossing the US border, effective in December of that year. Before then, people living with HIV who visited or migrated to the United States could be refused entry or deported.
South Korea is one of eight countries that have lifted their travel restrictions on people living with HIV since 2010. At a satellite United Nations session on HIV Travel Restrictions: Latest Developments, Kim Bong-hyun, South Korean Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs, said, “I am pleased to state, on behalf of my government, that the Republic of Korea has no HIV-specific travel restrictions under the Immigration Control Act and its implementing regulations. Lifting travel restrictions is a small step on our long journey to realize a society where there is no discrimination against people with HIV.”
While government alliances are forming under UN leadership, there are opportunities to make change and spread awareness in the private sector as well. UNAIDS, in partnership with the Global Business Coalition on Health, has already brought 27 CEOs on board to sign a pledge against HIV travel restrictions. The ultimate goal is to reach 100 CEOs by World AIDS Day on December 1, 2012. The initiative was launched at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, July 22-27, with representation from 200 countries.
“Globalized travel and relocation have become routine; companies need to move their best talent where they need them. These restrictions hurt not only individuals but also businesses,” Helga Ying, Senior Director of Worldwide Government Affairs and Public Policy at Levi Strauss & Co., explained in conjunction with the CEO initiative launch.
The companies on board include among others Aetna, BET Networks, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Gap Inc., Getty Images, H&M, HEINEKEN NV, Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss & Co., National Basketball Association (NBA), and Nordstrom, Inc.