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The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), and the Center for Global Health Policy say they strongly support the Obama administration’s move to lift the two-decades-old ban on travel and immigration to the U.S. by HIV-positive individuals.
“This rule is unnecessary and discriminatory,” said HIVMA chair-elect Michael Saag, MD, FIDSA, professor and chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “There is no scientific or public health rationale for excluding people with HIV infection from the U.S. HIV infection is a manageable condition not transmitted through casual contact. The travel ban actually serves to undermine public health by discouraging people from determining or disclosing their HIV status.”
Overturning the ban would simply put HIV-positive people on a level playing field with any other foreigner wanting to visit or immigrate to the U.S. The organizations say this long-overdue move would bring the U.S. in line with current science and international standards of public health practice and diminish the stigma and discrimination suffered by HIV-positive people.
At issue is a prohibition on travel and immigration to the U.S. by people with HIV, put in place in the late 1980s. Congress overturned this law last summer, in legislation signed by President George W. Bush that also reauthorized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Despite that move, the ban has remained in place because HIV is still classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “communicable disease of public health significance.”
In the coming days, the Obama administration is expected to publish a new regulation that would remove HIV from that list of diseases. The CDC supports the move, saying that HIV does not pose a risk to the general population and that removing it from the disease list reflects “public health best practices.”
“These changes reflect current scientific knowledge and public health best practices and will have the benefit of removing stigmatization of and discrimination against people who are HIV infected,” the CDC states. “While HIV infection is a serious health condition, it does not represent a communicable disease that is a significant threat for introduction, transmission, and spread to the United States population through casual contact. An arriving alien with HIV infection does not pose a public health risk to the general population through casual contact.”