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HIV/AIDS removed from US travel ban

December 5, 2009

Last Friday, President Obama promised a major step forward for human rights, announcing plans to remove a travel ban on persons with HIV/AIDS by January. HIV/AIDS has been included on a list of excludable conditions since 1987, preventing foreigners with HIV/AIDS from residing in or traveling to the United States. Most diseases on the list are added and removed by the Public Health Service, but this changed in 1987 when Jesse Helms moved to add HIV to this list, effectively making HIV/AIDS presence on the list a responsibility of congress. As early as 1990 the Public Health Service recommended removing HIV/AIDS from the list, but no action was taken at that time. During the Clinton administration legislation was introduced to remove it, which failed after a large public outcry. This most recent legislation, finally successful, is set to be enacted in January.

The recommendation for removal in 1990 was meant to recognize that HIV/AIDS is not contagious through casual contact, like most diseases considered to be excludable conditions. In addition to misrepresenting the nature of the disease, inappropriately including HIV/AIDS on the list can have broad social consequences. Preventing people with HIV/AIDS from traveling to or residing in the United States reinforces confusion about how the disease spreads and increases the stigma surrounding the disease. Worst of all, such a ban discourages testing and increases the risk of the disease spreading. Hopefully, through this measure and others like it awareness, understanding and honesty can prevent the continued spread of HIV/AIDS.

A full list of excludable diseases from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dq/diseases.htm

Background on the conflict from AIDS.org: http://www.aids.org/atn/a-128-03.html

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