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International AIDS Conference Day 3: Dr. Koh speaks on HIV Travel Restrictions

James Chau, USAID Goodwill Ambassador, and Dr. Howard Koh, MD, MPH

James Chau, UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, and Dr. Howard Koh, MD, MPH

Today, I participated in a dialogue about nations lifting HIV-related travel restrictions. I was joined by distinguished colleagues, including the UNAIDS Exit Disclaimer Executive Director, Mr. Michel Sidibe, the Honorable Dr. Richard N. Kamwi, Namibia's Minister of Health, Kevin Moody, CEO of GNP+ Exit Disclaimer, and James Chau, UNAIDS Exit Disclaimer Goodwill Ambassador. Both Namibia and China lifted such travel restrictions this year.

Last year, President Obama announced that the United States would lift its long-standing HIV-related travel restrictions, overturning a policy that had been in place since 1987.

We view the lifting of this HIV-specific U.S. entry ban as a renewed commitment to global health. The entry ban was originally placed into effect when there was little known about how HIV was spread.

Scientists have long since proved that HIV/AIDS is not spread through casual contact with a person living with HIV. Moreover, HIV is not like some other diseases that might prevent entry into the US, such as tuberculosis, a highly communicable respiratory illness.

The lifting of the travel ban (effective on January 4, 2010) included the following provisions:

  • HIV infection is no longer defined as a communicable disease of public health significance with respect to immigration;
  • Testing for infection is no longer required as part of the U.S. immigration medical screening process; and
  • HIV infection no longer requires a waiver for entry into the United States.

We anticipate that the new U.S. policy will help reduce HIV stigma and discrimination around the world. I have seen such stigma firsthand as a physician who has cared for patients for more than 30 years. People living with HIV should not be viewed with suspicion but rather should receive the care and treatment they need and deserve.

With this announcement, the United States now looks forward to hosting the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. The International AIDS Conference will be an opportunity for our country to welcome scientists, policy makers, program officials, HIV-positive individuals and others from around the world.