HIV-related travel restrictions - UNAIDS
khap | 2008.03.12 03:42
Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, governments and the private sector have implemented travel restrictions with regard to HIV positive people wishing to enter or remain in a country for a short stay (e.g. business, personal visits, tourism) or for longer periods (e.g. asylum, employment, immigration, refugee resettlement, or study).
The international task team met for the first time in Geneva on 25-26 February. The meeting, co-chaired by UNAIDS and the Government of Norway, brought together representatives of governments, inter-governmental organizations and civil society, including the private sector and networks of people living with HIV.
According to data collected by the European AIDS Treatment Group, a total of 74 countries have some form of HIV-specific travel restrictions, 12 of which ban HIV positive people from entering for any reason or length of time. The most common reasons used are to protect public health and to avoid possible costs associated with care, support and treatment of people living with HIV.
Whatever the reason, HIV-related travel restrictions raise fundamental issues regarding the human rights of non-discrimination and freedom of movement of people living with HIV in today’s highly mobile world.
In the year 2000, the World Tourist Organization estimated that there were 698 million international arrivals world-wide. The majority of these people are travelling for short periods of time, e.g. for tourism, business, conferences, family visits. With regard to longer-term mobility, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that some 175 million migrants currently live and work outside their country of citizenship, i.e., 2.9 per cent of the world’s population.
HIV -related travel restrictions usually take the form of a law or administrative instruction that requires people to indicate their HIV-free status before entering or remaining in a country. Some countries require people to undergo an HIV test whereas others require an HIV-free certificate or simply that people declare their HIV status.
Testing under such circumstances is akin to mandatory testing, and in many instances is done without appropriate pre and post-test counselling or safeguards of confidentiality. Any HIV testing should be done voluntarily and on the basis of informed consent.
The personal impact of HIV-related travel restrictions can be devastating for the individual seeking to immigrate, to gain asylum, to visit family, to attend meetings, to study, or to do business. The candidate immigrant, refugee, student or other traveller may simultaneously learn that s/he is infected with HIV, that s/he may not be allowed to travel, and possibly that his/her status has become known to government officials, or to family, community, and employer, exposing the individual to possibly serious discrimination and stigma.
For those already in a receiving country, they may face summary deportation without due process of law and protection of confidentiality. Under such circumstances, there is every incentive to hide or deny one’s HIV status and to avoid contact with immigration authorities and health care workers. Both immigration controls and public health efforts are thereby undermined, while individuals are cut off from prevention, assistance and, perhaps, needed health services.
“Travel restrictions based on HIV status
again highlight the exceptionality of AIDS,
especially short-term restrictions," said
UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot.
“Travel restrictions based on HIV status again highlight the exceptionality of AIDS, especially short-term restrictions," said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot. "No other condition prevents people from entering countries for business, tourism, or to attend meetings. No other condition has people afraid of having their baggage searched for medication at the border, with the result that they are denied entry or worse, detained and then deported back to their country", he added.
The Task Team will generate concrete
recommendations on specific actions that
different stakeholders can take to move
towards the elimination of HIV-related
The International Task Team comprises two working groups which focus on short-term and long-term restrictions, supported and guided by a Steering Committee. The Working Groups and the Steering Committee of the Task Team will meet four times before August 2008, when its final recommendations will be presented at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico. The Task Team will generate concrete recommendations on specific actions that different stakeholders (government, civil society, intergovernmental organizations and the private sector) can take to move towards the elimination of HIV-related travel restrictions. The Task Team will focus on key strategic actions that:
Recommendations will support the principles of non-discrimination and the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV and rational HIV-related policies for travellers, migrants and mobile populations in sending and receiving countries – in the context of efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, as agreed by governments at the High Level Meeting on AIDS (2006).