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Although they have often been ill-conceived and antithetical to human dignity, most governments’ regulatory efforts to control the spread of HIV have nevertheless been grounded – at least, to some extent – in concerns about the health of the general public. But no such humane motives can be claimed by countries that declare themselves off-limits to HIV-positive visitors.
As of 2010, when the US finally lifted its ban, more than fifty governments brandished travel restrictions that double as badges of bigotry. One-quarter of all UN Member States require foreigners who apply for entry or residency to prove that they are free of HIV.
Each of those countries is undoubtedly aware that as far back as 1988, the World Health Organization pronounced travel restrictions
incapable of insulating populations from new HIV epidemic outbreaks. No country has ever been able to demonstrate that closing borders to outsiders living with HIV prevents the spread of the virus. The truth is that, by now, all health workers understand that HIV is unlike the airborne viruses that can mingle and establish roots with relative ease. As viruses go, HIV is decidedly inept at spreading itself around.
But science seems irrelevant to the policymakers in countries that still condone discrimination on the basis of health. These restrictions have nothing to do with averting a health crisis lurking just beyond their national perimeters, and nothing to do with epidemiological know-how. Travel restrictions exist as official expressions of moral judgment. They are governments’ entitlements to act on a punitive impulse, plain and simple. With each global citizen barred from entry because of HIV sero-status, a government and its people assert moral, racial, ethnic, religious, and economic superiority. With each visit prohibited, a government engages in subliminal hate speech: if you are homosexual, if you are black, if you are poor, we consider you unworthy of the basic rights and freedoms that other human beings enjoy. Travel restrictions may do nothing to protect public health, but they do have a daily impact on the AIDS epidemic: they fan the flames of discrimination that keep it burning.
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• Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe e.V. / German AIDS Federation & European AIDS Treatment Group. "The Global Database on HIV-related Travel and Residence Restrictions." www.hivtravel.org (accessed 5/25/12);
• UNAIDS. 2011. "HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence." http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/priorities/20110620_CountryList_TravelRestrictions_en.pdf (accessed 5/25/12).
• UNAIDS International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions. 2009. "Mapping of restrictions on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV." http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/dataimport/pub/report/2009/jc1727_mapping_en.pdf (accessed 5/25/12).
• UNAIDS. 2013. "Welcome (not)." http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/images/infographics/2012/20120514travel/20120514_infographic_travel.pdf (accessed 11/19/13).
• US State Department, Country Specific Travel Information, http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html (accessed 5/25/12).
• Armenia: UNAIDS. 2011. "Armenia lifts travel ban for people living with HIV." http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2011/july/20110715psarmenia/ (accessed 5/25/2012).
• Fiji: UNAIDS. 2011. "Fiji lifts travel ban for people living with HIV." http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2011/august/20110826cfiji/ (accessed 5/25/12).
• New Zealand: Immigration New Zealand. 2010. "Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Work Category." http://www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/work/hortandvit/rse/default.htm (accessed 5/25/12).
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